You Google. You use Google Maps. You hold Google’s Android phone. One day, you could be a passenger in “Google Car”. Mere passenger because Google’s latest venture is to remove the driver from the car; it’s a self driving car! This isn’t something new however – there have been many projects to create autonomous cars, and you might have heard of Stanley, the Stanford University developed VW Touareg that won the 2005 DARPA Challenge – but it’s still surprising to hear Google doing this.
The man behind Google Streetview who also worked on Stanley, Sebastian Thrun, is part of the team behind Google Car alongside engineers from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA is the organiser of the Urban Challenge, which Stanley Junior (a VW Passat Wagon) won in 2007.
Equipped with gadgets like video cameras, radar sensors, a laser range finder, and detailed maps, Google’s fleet of self-driving vehicles have racked up over 140,000 unmanned miles so far. Seven vehicles (six Toyota Prius, one Audi TT) have travelled 1,000 miles without human intervention around San Francisco, going down Lombard Street, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and around Lake Tahoe. Sounds scary, but the fleet only recorded one crash, and that was when one of the Google Cars were rear-ended by another car.
Knight Rider and KITT was a fantasy 20 years ago. The autonomous car may be reality for the masses very soon!