Yikes. I wonder if Arnie knows?
Google has been letting its diverless cars loose on the freeways of California. This particular hands-free car technology means there are no hands on the car’s steering wheel.
The ‘drone’ cars just take off and drive all by themselves. Google admitted in October 2010 that the Toyota Prius automated driverless cars had already driven more than 140,000 miles in test drives around California, entirely on auto-pilot. Google’s no-driver cars have cruised out of Google headquarters in Mountain View, northern California, down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica and have also driven across the Golden Gate Bridge and along San Francisco’s Lombard Street.
Some have driven as much as 1000 miles with no-one at the wheel.
Google’s lawyers say there is nothing illegal about testing driverless cars on California’s roads despite the fact that drivers are not forewarned. Each car has had a regular-old-human in the driving seat, though not driving. Speed limlits are respected as every road’s speed limit is programmed into the car’s ‘brain’. A software engineer goes along for the ride too, in case of “software problems”. (Hmm, wonder what those could be? Car turns left into a ravine by mistake? Car won’t stop when it gets back to Google HQ?)
Sebastian Thrun, 43, is the Google manager overseeing the production of the driverless car and its test drives.
Here’s how he describes Google’s drone-car project.
“Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use. Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to ‘see’ other traffic, as well as detailed maps which we collect using manually-driven vehicles to navigate the road ahead. Safety has been our first priority… Our cars are never unmanned. We always have a trained safety driver behind the wheel who can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control. And we also have a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software. Any test begins by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance. And we’ve briefed local police on our work.”
It’s easy to imagine both the dangers and the benefits of driverless cars. The dangers are too obvious to need mentioning! Personally I don’t want to go anywhere near one till they’ve been proven error-free for, oh, twenty years. The cars could, though, conceivably be great for disabled people, people with temporary illness or injury, people who hate driving, people who’re too drunk to drive…
One benefit I wouldn’t go along with really is Thrun’s assertion that “the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Imagine being able to spend that time more productively.”
Sebastian, there are other things in life besides work, even at Google HQ. If you’re going to release a driverless car onto the streets of America, please don’t do it just so people can spend another 52 minutes looking at their latop. It’s the car that’s supposed to be the drone – not the human!