I, For One, Welcome Our New Robot Chauffeur Overlords

Ken AshfordScience & TechnologyLeave a Comment

The New York Times informs us that cars that drive themselves are here, and they work.  Google has been perfecting several self-driving cars for a while now.  The cars have already driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and over 140,000 miles with “only occasional human control.” Yes, engineers have been in the cars the whole time, and paying attention, but it’s clear where this is going.

The robo-cars operate by driving themselves while interfacing with a human driver using speech, warning the human of possible problems. The human can take over if needed. The article discusses some of the problems inherent in having robots drive cars (like who’s liable when there’s an accident), and notes that they’re not ready for the mass market yet.

From the article:

Robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided — more than 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2008. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption. But of course, to be truly safer, the cars must be far more reliable than, say, today’s personal computers, which crash on occasion and are frequently infected….

During a half-hour drive beginning on Google’s campus 35 miles south of San Francisco last Wednesday, a Prius equipped with a variety of sensors and following a route programmed into the GPS navigation system nimbly accelerated in the entrance lane and merged into fast-moving traffic on Highway 101, the freeway through Silicon Valley.

It drove at the speed limit, which it knew because the limit for every road is included in its database, and left the freeway several exits later. The device atop the car produced a detailed map of the environment.

The car then drove in city traffic through Mountain View, stopping for lights and stop signs, as well as making announcements like “approaching a crosswalk” (to warn the human at the wheel) or “turn ahead” in a pleasant female voice….

Read the rest and check out the video.