Google Introduces Self-Driving Car

Dennis Faas's picture

When you've got as much money as Google, you can afford to try out some crazy-sounding ideas. But none are quite as wacky as the company's latest project: self-driving cars. The search engine giant has been trying out the system in California recently. It involves a combination of robotics, road data and processing power.

Self-Driving Car Use Lasers, Radar Sensors

The technology includes video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder, all of which are designed to detect the position of other vehicles and adjust the car's movement appropriately.

The data was collected by Google cars similar to those used for Street View, but contains more detailed information such as lane markers and traffic signs. The processing power comes from Google data centers and allows the vehicles to work on up-to-the-minute information at any time. (Source:

Humans On Standby

Although the theory is that the cars could work with no human intervention, Google always had drivers on hand during the tests. They can take over the controls immediately by turning the steering wheel, hitting the brakes, or pressing a special button.

Google says that in 140,000 miles, a human had to intervene only twice. One of those proved both serious and a sign that the system has its limitations: the human had to hit the brakes after a cyclist jumped a red light.

Robotic Car Utilizes 360-Degree View

The logic behind the system is not only that robots can react more quickly than humans, but they do so more consistently and don't get tired.

Another benefit is that cameras can allow the robots to analyze what is happening on a 360 degree view, meaning there's no blind spots, and you don't have the problem of a human driver's perception being affected by where they happen to be glancing at any precise moment.

The theory is that if everyone used a robot-driven car, it would be safe to allow cars to drive closer together, which could double the capacity of busy roads. (Source:

Business Opportunities Uncertain

It's not yet clear how Google would make any money from such vehicles, though one possibility is by licensing the data it collects about roads. There are also legal questions about the technology, such as how it would affect insurance.

For the moment, then, the project is more about Google demonstrating that its ambitions go beyond the web.

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