Google Inc. has lately developed technology for cars that can drive themselves. These automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps to navigate the road ahead. This is made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by manually driven cars when mapping their terrain.
The main aim of this research is car safety, efficiency, to help prevent traffic accidents, reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use and free up people’s time.
Automated cars, manned by trained operators, drove from Google’s Mountain View campus to Google’s 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. These self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. This technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. Self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow.” These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on major roads.
In terms of time efficiency, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Now it is possible to spend that time more productively.
Google has gathered a team of the best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson, the technical team leader;Mike Montemerlo, the software lead;and Anthony Levandowski are a part of that team.
Although it appears, but these cars are never unmanned. They have a trained safety driver behind the wheel who can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control. They also have a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software.
While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science.
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