Google to direct road traffic with driverless car
Not content with driving traffic across the internet, Google is developing software and systems for a self-driving car able to navigate city streets.
Claiming the company’s goal was to improve safety and efficiency, Google said its Knight Rider-style prototypes had already notched up more than 140,000 miles and could save more than half a million lives a year.
“Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard,” wrote distinguished software engineer Sebastian Thrun in Google’s official blog.
They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe
“They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe,” he said. “This is a first in robotics research.”
According to Google, the cars use video cameras, radar and a laser range finder to position the car in both its physical environment and on detailed maps which are gathered (as with its controversial StreetView system) by sending data-collection scout cars out on the streets.
Google says the data-heavy process of modelling where a car is then and negotiating the road and other cars is only possible through huge data centres, “which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain”.
Concerned Californians will note that Google says it always has a safety driver in the cars who can “take over as easily as one disengages cruise control”, as well as a software engineer to monitor the software.
Further technical details remain vague, but Google cites World Health Organisation figures of 1.2 million global road deaths a year, a figure the company claims could be cut by half through its driverless technology.
The move from search to V8 engine was accelerated by a recruitment campaign that cherry-picked top competitors from the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges which have been run by the US military to develop self-driving vehicles for danger zone deployment.