Typically essential to the driving experience in the past, sight may no longer be necessary to get behind the wheel in the future. Google has developed a driverless car that has already logged over 140,000 miles on public roads.
Currently being lead by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View, the driverless system combines information gathered from Google Street View with artificial intelligence software that combines input from video cameras from inside the car.
Sensors located on the exterior of the car help to locate the car’s position on a map. Encountering everything from the jogger to a winding road, these sensors ensure that the car avoids obstacles at all cost, without the driver having to command it to do so.
Driving over 1,000 miles without any human intervention and over 140,000 miles with only slight human intervention, the cars have only had two accidents and Google hopes that the increased accuracy of its automated driving system could help reduce the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths, while using energy and road space more efficiently.
The project team has a fleet of seven test vehicles, six Toyota Priuses and one Audi TT, each accompanied in the driver’s seat by one of a dozen drivers with a perfect driving record and a Google engineer. The cars have successfully navigated San Francisco’s infamously winding Lombard Street, traversed the Golden Gate Bridge and driven along Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The system drives at the speed limit it has stored on its maps and maintains its distance from other cars using the sensors on the outside of the car. While the goal of the project is to create a car that can drive itself, for right now, there is a mechanism that allows for human intervention and control by stepping on the break of turning the wheel, much like the cruise control function on cars today.
As of right now, Google has no immediate plans to manufacture the car at a commercial level; however, the company could market the system to car manufacturers across the globe so as to put the technology in cars driven by humans.
This system is ahead of the law in many cases because current driving laws assume there is a driver behind the wheel. The only state to have written this technology into practice is Nevada, where it is in fact legal to operate a driverless vehicle on public streets.