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The Driverless Car Fom Google

We’ve already heard of Volkswagen and General Motors experimenting towards driverless cars, and now Google has joined in.

Google? What the search engine?

Yes indeed. Their involvement stemmed from their camera cars travelling around the world taking pictures of people’s front yards.

But now this technology has gone a lot, lot further.

We have already seen some embryonic “driverless” options move into production – adaptive cruise control is one example, but that’s nothing compared with the latest on road research.

Google seems to be a step ahead of the rest, though, as they are working with Stamford University and a talented engineering team headed by Sebastian Thrun who was the co-inventor of Google’s street mapping cameras.

They have five Toyota Prius cars and have logged nearly a quarter of a million kilometres in varied road conditions in California, including the winding streets of San Francisco.

Thrun has a very personal motivation in all of this, having lost a close friend in an auto accident when they were teenagers. He explains his motivation and shows some vivid pictures of the driverless cars in motion in this YouTube clip.

It’s very impressive, as it seems to be able to handle all conditions, city back streets, freeways, night and daytime traffic and some pretty fancy obstacle courses at racing speeds.

But will it happen?

One thing’s for certain, there are plenty of pluses – better use of road space, much improved traffic flows, less stress (if you can stand being in the passenger seat with no driver) and better use of time.

But what if there’s a glitch – a software failure, a bug in the system? Can you imagine the mayhem?

Sadly there are many road fatalities everyday, but it only needs one to occur from a software malfunction to put a big question mark on the whole project.

What do you think? Will it happen in our lifetime? Can you sit back and have nobody drive?

9 comments

  1. Graham Moore says:

    This could be a great boon for hire by the hour cars. Book the car on the website and it could drive to your address from its local base. Then if you have a period of time when it is not needed to could drive itself off to another job.

    I love taking the train to rural Victoria for a weekend away, but unless you can find accommodation within walking distance of the railway station it is not possible. A car based at the station that could be hired to drive the 5 or 10 km to your ultimate destination and then return to the station for the next passenger would be great.

    May 26th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

  2. Richard Denton says:

    Yes. The issue of confidence in a driver less car is solely dependent on the way and the accuracy of the machine. Sitting in the car for an hour or two in various traffic/road conditions would soon show if the machine was truly worthy of human replacement. It would be just like sitting as a passenger with a human driver, you can soon tell if he/she is a competent safe and accurate driver or not. A test with the machine would reveal the answer pretty darn quickly whether or not it was safe and competent. So my answer is YES if the machine shows it is as good as a competent human.

    May 26th, 2011 at 1:09 pm

  3. Margaret Hilder says:

    Question: if a driverless car does malfunction and have/cause an accident, who would be held to be responsible? the owner? (might not even be in the car at the time, but would this matter?) the manufacturer?? (probably not likely – I think car manufacturers would fight any attempt to make them legally liable in such situations – it wouldn’t be good for the bottom line). Obviously this is a question that would need to be resolved.

    May 26th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  4. James says:

    Stanford University is in Palo Alto, California. Stamford University is in Bangladesh.

    May 26th, 2011 at 5:52 pm

  5. Peter MArtin says:

    How about thinking this way: passenger hails driverless car by mobile phone. Car knows where passenger is by gps . car arrives . car and phone merge . phone company charges use to phone bill. passenger leaves car – drunk sober does not matter. no car accidents- no need to own a car. next driver sms’s state of vehicle if not clean. think about it!! I say go GOOGLE

    May 26th, 2011 at 8:44 pm

  6. Larry smith says:

    Based on the fact that during the last 100 years or so, most science fiction concepts have become reality and in some cases have even been surpassed, the driverless car is almost bound to happen. The problem of a computer glitch leading to a serious accident will no doubt be resolved by building in a series of fail-safe mechanisms.

    I expect to see driverless cars on the road well within my life time. I am 74 and I have decided not to cash-in untill I am 88. I also say GO GOOGLE GO.

    May 27th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

  7. Richard Lloyd says:

    One also might ponder what would you do with an intoxicated car, say if you put ethylene glycol in the tank instead of petrol. My guess is that someone will have to walk in front of the driverless car waving a red flag for a decade or two then someone will build a dedicated road for driverless cars and just as the craze is about to catch on cars will be banned because they cause too much pollution, and we will have to start riding horses again.

    May 26th, 2011 at 10:24 pm

  8. Rob Kohler says:

    The world’s just gotta hope that Microsoft don’t get to write the operating system!

    Blue screen of death bring any comments?

    May 27th, 2011 at 9:59 am

  9. Timmy Rose says:

    I guess a lot depends upon what failsafes are integrated into the system and what happens if & when they are triggered. The development of computer equipment over the last 30 years has been meteoric to say the least, but I suppose I wouldn’t feel really confident, unless there was adequate redundancy built into the cars systems, and most especially an “unbreachable firewall” to prevent access to hackers/viruses, since the concept of a city full of driverless cars exposed to a terroist inspired malicious software attack simply doesn’t bear thinking about. That said, there are clearly many advantages to be gained from such a development ranging from huge efficiency gains in the way we use transport through to increased safety and better emergency response systems. Just imagine someone living alone having a medical emergency which made it impossible to drive, being able to safely get themselves under way to the hospital for example. Inclusion of biometric measurements of the intending driver would also prevent them from driving whilst under the influence etc.

    May 27th, 2011 at 11:57 am