Google tests cars that can steer without drivers

Oct 10, 2010 By DANIEL WAGNER , AP Business Writer

Google Inc. is road-testing cars that steer, stop and start without a human driver, the company says.

The goal is to "help prevent traffic accidents, free up people's time and reduce carbon emissions" through ride sharing and "the new 'highway trains of tomorrow,'" project leader Sebastian Thrun wrote Saturday on Google's corporate blog.

The cars are never unmanned, Thrun wrote. He said a backup driver is always behind the wheel to monitor the software.

It's not the first signal that Google wants to change how people get from place to place. In a speech Sept. 29 at the TechCrunch "Disrupt" conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said "your car should drive itself. It just makes sense."

"It's a bug that cars were invented before computers," Schmidt said.

The cars have traveled a total of 140,000 miles on major California roads without much human intervention, according to Google's corporate blog.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based technology giant has sent seven test cars a total of 1,000 miles without a human touching the controls at all, the New York Times reported. The newspaper published a report on the cars earlier Sunday.

The cars know speed limits, traffic patterns and road maps, Thrun's posting says. They use video cameras, radar sensors and lasers to detect other cars.

Driving between Northern California and Southern California, the cars have navigated San Francisco's curvy Lombard Street, Los Angeles' Hollywood Boulevard and the cliff-hugging Pacific Coast Highway, the blog says.

Engineers consider the cars safer because they react more quickly than humans, the New York Times said. It said Google has not revealed how it hopes to profit from the research.

The company is flush with cash, though, and pushing numerous projects such as the cars that are unrelated to its core business, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif.

"The word 'focus' is a word Google has never learned," Enderle said, pointing to projects involving electricity distribution, vehicle design and artificial intelligence. He said cars that can drive themselves would allow commuters more time to surf the web, something Google would encourage.

Still, Enderle said, industry leaders such as Volkswagen and Intel Corp. are working on similar technology. He said "driverless" vehicles will make computers more like the robots imagined in the 1920s, rather than the tabletop data processors we use today.

The blog says the technology is being developed by scientists who were involved in an earlier set of unmanned car races organized by the government's Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.

Explore further: Air traffic control system failure is too complex to fix in a day

More information: Google blog: googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/1… were-driving-at.html

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kuro
1.5 / 5 (13) Oct 10, 2010
Is that legal? Have they asked for permission?

I know Google believes it is the best thing ever to happen, sliced bread notwithstanding and that money buys everything, but experimenting and creating potentially dangerous situations on the road secretly strikes me as more than a little irresponsible.

And yeah, I saw they claim the car "wasn't unmanned". They also claim it can respond (and create dangerous situations) faster than human in the same sentence.
philosothink
3.9 / 5 (8) Oct 10, 2010
they can't be much less safe than your typical 16yr old riding with friends...
tigger
3.1 / 5 (11) Oct 10, 2010
If more companies had the balls to step away from a puritanical capitalist attitude the world would be a happier place. Good for you Google, geeks really will inherit the earth :-)
scenage
5 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2010
@kuro: There is a backup driver just in case things go wrong.
plasticpower
5 / 5 (3) Oct 10, 2010
In their blog they say they've notified the authorities and the cars haven't been involved in any accidents except one of them got rear-ended... by a human..
knikiy
not rated yet Oct 10, 2010
This way, when the frogmen start chasing them, no human Google employees will be put at risk.
fixer
1 / 5 (2) Oct 10, 2010
I know we live in a world with high EMR, but I don't like the idea of all that laser and radar noise at crotch level.
kuro
1 / 5 (3) Oct 10, 2010
@kuro: There is a backup driver just in case things go wrong.


you fail at reading comprehension - i've already countered that lame excuse in my first comment.
CSharpner
3 / 5 (4) Oct 11, 2010
If more companies had the balls to step away from a puritanical capitalist attitude the world would be a happier place. Good for you Google, geeks really will inherit the earth :-)

How is Google's earning profit from their products, using it to R&D new products to grow and profit from NOT capitalism??? And what's wrong with that capitalism? If overbearing, socialist governments would get out of the way and let companies like Google and others innovate, and hire more people looking for work, the world would be a happier place.
Recovering_Human
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2010
This tech is way overdue. Just wait until they get cars synched up so that they can all move at normal speed even in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
pauljpease
5 / 5 (5) Oct 11, 2010
@kuro: There is a backup driver just in case things go wrong.


you fail at reading comprehension - i've already countered that lame excuse in my first comment.


This technology has been in development for decades. It's not like they just came up with this and started messing with it on your neighborhood streets. Not to mention the benefit to society will be huge when this technology is perfected. No more 20,000 deaths a year from drunk drivers (US alone). No more driving around endlessly wasting gas and time looking for a place to park. No more overconsumption through under utilization...we don't need one car for every person...look around, most cars are sitting parked and empty MOST of the time, what a huge waste! Those cars could drive themselves around picking people up as needed. I bet we'd need about 20% as many cars, if that.
DamienS
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 11, 2010
This tech is way overdue. Just wait until they get cars synched up so that they can all move at normal speed even in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I doubt this tech will ever be used in autonomous vehicles. Not because the tech can't work - it can, but because of the enormous roadblock called liability. If one of these driverless things crashes who is liable? It will be litigation heaven!
VirtualJeff
4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2010
@kuro: There is a backup driver just in case things go wrong.


you fail at reading comprehension - i've already countered that lame excuse in my first comment.


I believe you have more to fear from fellow human drivers nearby your residence than from these test cars. No doubt these cars obey traffic laws to the letter each and every time. When was the last time you came to a full and complete stop?
kuro
1 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2010
"I believe"

You may believe what you want, but the safety laws are there for a reason.

"No doubt these cars obey traffic laws to the letter each and every time."

Care to cite something that will confirm this wild speculation?
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (48) Oct 11, 2010
Here we go again. It's always been, is, and will continue to be a "Homer Simpson" idea which will never be adopted by anyone except the few who would enjoy the novelty of it.

A computer can not take into consideration everything visually required to safely control a car at speed, unless the thing is in lock step on some sort of grid, in which the lack of freedom will be unbearable for most people.

There already exists a solution for the non-problem it aims to solve,... they call it a BUS.
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (49) Oct 11, 2010
The goal is to "help prevent traffic accidents, free up people's time and reduce carbon emissions" through ride sharing and "the new 'highway trains of tomorrow,'"


The only way such cartoonish ideas would ever be adopted by the general public is if they are imposed upon people through force at the expense of freedom of choice. In fact the entire "utopian society" envisioned by these left wing mental children, require social engineered unwanted solutions to every statistically demonstratable problem intrinsic in a free society. The end result is anything but a utopia.

No one adopted Sun Chips' idea of a biodegradable bag because IT WAS TOO LOUD,... but the left wing tree huggers naively continue ...
TechnoCore
5 / 5 (4) Oct 11, 2010
Think of all those millions of people, who are commuting by car, the same route everyday. Would they not love to just push a button, and let the car drive you while you watch some TV, surf the net or whatever?

Where's the freedom in driving the same stretch every day? I'd rather do something else... if i could :)
VirtualJeff
4 / 5 (4) Oct 11, 2010
"I believe"

You may believe what you want, but the safety laws are there for a reason.

Yes. And they are programmed into the software as well. The difference? They don't need 7 hours of sleep and coffee to be alert. Is there a possibility of a software glitch? Yes. That's the reason for two people in each vehicle. No accidents have been reported that were the fault of the system...seems like the tests were a success.

"No doubt these cars obey traffic laws to the letter each and every time."

Care to cite something that will confirm this wild speculation?


This is building on the success of the DARPA challenges of recent years. The software/hardware is maturing to the point that reliability will exceed our own. Thats the nature of technology: it becomes more reliable and less expensive over time. People, however, are highly unreliable, easily distracted, easily fatigued and emotional. The "wild speculation" is actually when we assume others on the road will obey traffic laws.
jselin
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 11, 2010
I fear this technology from a preservation of freedom standpoint. I imagine it will start with the leftmost lane and drivers can enter and exit automatic mode as they wish. The success of the first lane will widen to a second, then later a third. Any remaining free lanes will be facing extinction with safety and emissions reduction being cited whenever possible. I can picture free drivers being demonized as selfish and dangerous.
NickFun
1 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2010
This technology may be the first step to eliminating people entirely! Robots will someday be able to build themselves and even have a crude form of conciousness!
kuro
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2010
This is building on the success of the DARPA challenges of recent years. The software/hardware is maturing to the point that reliability will exceed our own. Thats the nature of technology: it becomes more reliable and less expensive over time. People, however, are highly unreliable, easily distracted, easily fatigued and emotional. The "wild speculation" is actually when we assume others on the road will obey traffic laws.


Care to share where/when was the last time DARPA cars mixed in traffic? I don't seem to recall such a thing at all.

The hubris of a corporation to release untested and dangerous technology on the road without permission and prior approval is, at least, irresponsible.

People who don't see the dangers of this practice becoming commonplace are plain stupid.
fixer
2 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2010
They are just teenagers grown up, I think many of us have unleashed such "technology" on the public at some point in our lives.
Not that I think this is a good idea, but if it works then it offers transit security that is unavailable with public transport.
Flakk
5 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2010
If more companies had the balls to step away from a puritanical capitalist attitude the world would be a happier place. Good for you Google, geeks really will inherit the earth :-)


Just because you don't understand how Google makes its money doesn't mean they aren't capitalists. Do your homework, then post.

Google is like any other company. They don't do anything that doesn't benefit them either now or in the future. This idea will profit Google as A) sucsessful propaganda (Increasing intrest in the company)Protip: thats part of how they make their money. B) Future revenue generation through a sucsessful product (Capitalism) or C) Both.
mertzj
4 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2010
@kuro

If you dont like technological advancements QUIT READING PHYSORG!!!!!!!

Seriously!
VirtualJeff
not rated yet Oct 18, 2010

Care to share where/when was the last time DARPA cars mixed in traffic? I don't seem to recall such a thing at all.


Sure. Check out http://www.darpa....allenge/

You state:
"The hubris of a corporation to release untested and dangerous technology on the road without permission and prior approval is, at least, irresponsible."

It wasn't untested technology and they did notify police departments along the way.

You said:
"People who don't see the dangers of this practice becoming commonplace are plain stupid."

I suppose so...that is, if Google were using untested technologies and failed to warn communities.

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