Look mum no hands – Googles self-driving car

“You look at self-driving cars. You know a lot of people die, and there's a lot of wasted labour. The better transportation you have, the more choice in jobs.” Those were the words of much respected Larry Page on the topic of why Google is working on a self driving car. On reading the quote it appears that Page has over-cooked the explanation, a simple “It sounded like fun” would have covered it. Regardless of his and Googles motivations, its clear to all that massive strides have been made in the past 2 years. The concept is now entering the mainstream and commercialisation of the system is no longer a pipe dream.
 

The key points

Below are some of the main points on the topic. The facts give the impression that things are coming along nicely but areas like testing, cost, road conditions and law still need more work.

  • The trials are 480,000 kilometres accident free (as at 8th Aug 2012)
  • The cars use cameras, radar and motion sensors to make driving decisions
  • Testing on the prototype began in 2010
  • Current problems; Snow on the road, temporary road signs
  • Authorised to test/drive on public roads; State of Florida, State of Nevada, State of California
  • Current hardware cost; $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 lidar (laser radar)
     

The future

Ok, so its unlikely that you’ll walk out of your house tomorrow or even next year only to see hundreds of self driving cars whizzing around. The car industry has, for years, proven that even for basic improvements it’s a slow moving beast. This, coupled with the high hardware prices and fact that by Google’s own admission they still have some work to do on the actual system, tells us that this is less a 1 year turnaround and more a 4-5 year turnaround.
 

Conclusion

Finding answers to problems which have long languished in the “too hard” file has the power to inspire, and for some people (like the blind man in the video) finds can empower. After experiencing and working on Google’s business platforms for a few years I know how powerful their ability is to create solutions to problems. With this in mind, I think they are the perfect people to solve this seemingly unsolvable problem. Since their formation the company has been synonymous with the arrangement, sorting and understanding of vast and varying amounts of data, however they have not always gotten it right. Google wave, answers, buzz and others have been thrown onto the scrapheap never to be heard of again. While the self-driving car is a lot further down the road (pun intended) there is still a long way to go and unforeseeable failures could still destroy or at least setback their dream.
 

When do you think the first self-driving cars will start appearing?

Can you forsee any major problems?

Please comment below.

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