Google are currently working on developing technology for use in autonomous cars. The current, prototype cars are powered by software known as Google Chauffeur. Each car is identified as being a self-driving car by specific lettering on its side.
At the moment the project is led by Sebastian Thrum, co-inventor of Google’s Street View and director at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Thrun and his team created a robotic vehicle known as Stanley which went on to win the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and the associated $2 million prize offered by the US Department of Defense.
Currently, autonomous cars are not legal in most countries but after lobbying by Google, the US state of Nevada legalised them in June, 2011. The first license was issued to a Prius fitted with Google’s prototype driverless technology. In 2012, Florida and California also legalised the use of autonomous cars but only for testing purposes.
The robotic test cars developed by Google are fitted with around $150,000 of equipment which includes a $70,000 laser radar system. The roof-mounted laser lets the car build up a very detailed, three-dimensional map of its surroundings. Data is analysed from several other on-board sensors and combined with the 3D maps to produce a data model that allows the car to drive itself.
The team at Google has now equipped at least ten test vehicles, consisting of three Lexus, one Audi TT and six Toyota Prius. Each is driven by one of 12 test drivers who are accompanied by one of the project engineers at all times during testing. The cars have successfully negotiated the steep hairpin turns of the streets of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The cars are also able to obey the speed limit and keep a safe distance from the other cars around it.
The automated software features a manual override which lets a human take control by either turning the wheel or using the brake pedal in the same way that most cruise control systems work.
In August 2012, Google announced that they had completed more than 300,000 self-driven miles without a single accident. Testing has now commenced with single drivers rather than pairs.
There have been two minor incidents involving Google driverless cars, however. The first occurred whilst the car was being manually driven and the second was the fault of a third party, so the Chauffeur system was blameless in both cases.
Will the Google Driverless Car come to market?
Google has no immediate plan to bring its automated car to market, but it does hope to supply the system to automobile manufacturers. At the moment, the technology is developing faster than the law in most regions, and if the concept is to really catch on, new legislation will be required.
Despite this, it does seem extremely likely that we will see the first commercial Google Driverless vehicle within the next decade or so. In the summer of 2013, news reports appeared concerning the Robo-Taxi, a driverless taxi cab being developed by Google.
To stay on top of the latest car news, visit Car Finance 247.