Driving Miss Daisy

May 10 2012

Here’s a sobering thought for motorcyclists: The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has just issued its first license to a self-driven car.

The license, which was given to a Toyota Prius, came as the result of lobbying for driverless car laws by internet search engine giant Google. The Prius is one of a small fleet of cars modified by Google with its experimental driver-less technology that allows a vehicle to navigate public roads without any human intervention. The technology uses artificial intelligence software that compiles information from multiple sources including: Google Street View, interior-mounted video cameras, a roof-mounted LIDAR sensor, front-mounted radar sensors, and a position sensor at a rear wheel.

The vehicle’s speed is regulated using recorded limits from a map database and it maintains a safe distance from other road users through the use of its many sensors. Similar to a typical cruise control system, the driverless car can be instantly overridden by tapping the brake pedal (or manually turning its steering wheel).

“Ever since we’ve done work, we have longed to have someone, or something else, do that work for us,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin wrote in an official blog. “We’ve spent years working on a tough engineering problem—how to create a hardware and software system capable of gathering and interpreting massive amounts of real-time data and acting on that knowledge swiftly and surely enough to navigate innumerable varieties of crowded thoroughfares without ever once exploding in a fit of road rage at the guy who just cut across your lane.”

To further promote the technology, Google played an April Fools’ Day joke last month by announcing that its driverless cars were being developed to participate in NASCAR races.

Google expects that once implemented en masse, its automated driving system will not only reduce the number of driving injuries and deaths, but will also improve the efficiency of public roadways. According to Brin, Google’s self-driving cars always make the “correct split-second decision and never shift their focus off the road to check a map, text a friend, or apply rear-view mirror mascara.”

Google has been testing autonomous vehicles since 2010. Since then, the cars have covered over 1,600 kilometres unaided by human hands and over 225,000 kilometres with just an occasional human intervention. Google claims that none of the vehicles have ever been involved in a collision; however, in 2011 a driverless car was crashed near the company’s headquarters, apparently it was being manually driven at the time.

“Look Ma! No hands!”


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