In what the company is calling “A first in robotics research”, it has been testing the cars driving themselves around the San Francisco area, clocking up over 140,000 miles on public roads.
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Google says the cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic. Map data, collected using manually driven vehicles are used to navigate the road ahead. For safety there’s always a trained human in the driving seat waiting to step in if things go awry.
Why is Google doing this? It believes automated cars will be safer than conventional cars and will encourage car sharing. We’re not sure why car sharing will be encouraged by no-one doing the driving – surely the appeal of having your own car is having your own space, whether you’re doing the driving or not.
This is all a long way from being mass-market, though. Google software engineer Sebastian Thrun writes “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. And that future is very exciting.”
This is certainly impressive technology and we look forward to seeing Google make the cars transform into robots too.