Google has become the name that many people think about when the term ‘self-driving’ car is brought up in conversation, just as Tesla is with electric cars. This association is thanks to a (comparatively) long history with the technology and now the cars are ready to hit the public streets, at least in the US.
Google has announced that their protoype self-driving cars, which they announced last December, have been granted approval to begin driving on streets of northern California this summer. The cars are currently equipped with a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal, but Google hopes to remove these in time, and the prototypes are currently limited to a mere 25mph.
The Google self-driving car initiative, or Google Chauffeur as it’s called, is led by engineer Sebastian Thrun, who first created a self-driving car for a Stanford University attempt at a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge in 2005.
Google’s self-driving cars are all equipped with a futuristic (and rather expensive) LIDAR system which is worth around US$70,000. The system also utilises a Velodyne 64-beam laser which allows the car’s on-board computer to map a 3D image of the vehicle’s surroundings.
Having all these electronics and advanced technologies on-board has allowed the Google self-driving car to travel what Google recently announced was 1.7 million miles since 2009. In all those miles and years on the road, the Google self-driving car has only been involved in 11 accidents (all minor), none of which, according to Google, was their fault.
The self-driving car will save lives: there’s a lot of dangerous drivers out there and statistics point towards humans – be it through speeding, fatigue or other factors – being the main cause of collisions or incidents. The fact that Google still has to retain the steering wheel, brake and accelerator in the car for the time being still points to an inherent – if mostly unwarranted – distrust in the technology but with statistics like the ones Google has shown, there’s surely a need, and more likely, a market for the technology.
We’ll see a lot more about the successes (and failures if any) that the self-driving car project has over the coming months and years. Google will be updating the progress of the project on their Google+ page – but I personally can’t wait to get into a so-called ‘Johnny Cab’.