Google is now developing software that will drive a car without the help of a human. The idea is to make the world a safer place - and the vehicle has even been out on the public highway.
Google, software company with a finger in every pie, has now entered the autonomous vehicle field. A recent blog post What we’re driving at discusses the fact that Google has been developing a self-driving car for some time.
Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.
The cars use video cameras, radar and a laser range finder to detect other traffic and the terrain. From the brief description it seems that the data isn't actually processed in the car but transmitted to one of Google's data centers for processing.
It also seems that Google has borrowed some of the personnel from the teams that competed in the well-known DARPA Challenge - a race for autonomous vehicles set in a desert where a rogue vehicle can't do to much damage. Notice that Google's car has been driving on its own in an urban setting. Don't worry too much about safety though as a safety driver is on board and can take over by disengaging "cruise control" in a fraction of a second.
The stated objective is to make being in a car safer. The idea is that a computer driver is safer than a human driver - which is clearly far from being proven. Other organizations interested in removing the human from the loop have a range of different and less altruistic reasons for developing autonomous cars. DARPA want autonomous cars to behave as robot tanks and fighting vehicles.
Of course Google has another type of car that is much more controversial - the street view car which is driven millions of miles just to take photos. Now if Google could add self drive to the street view car it could just set it off and wait for the results to come back....