After a Google blog post last weekend, it was revealed that Google has been secretly working on autonomous vehicles, cars that can drive themselves. The engineers working on this project had experience from the DARPA challenges, and include Sebastian Thrun of the 2005 winners from Stanford, and Christopher Urmson of the 2007 winners from Carnegie Mellon (of which my company also contributed).
“Your car should drive itself. It just makes sense. It’s a bug that cars were invented before computers.”
–Eric Schmidt, Google CEO
Their fleet of six Prius (Priuses? Prii? Priora? Prissies?) and one Audi TT has driven over 140,000 miles with only occasional human control, and over 1,000 miles with no human intervention according to the New York Times. These cars have driven on the Pacific Coast Highway and Lombard Street. They’ve gone as far as Lake Tahoe (from Mountain View, CA?). I’m assuming they’ve been holding off venturing onto rough, treacherous venues, like Woodward Avenue in New Detroit until their T-1 is operational.
The cars use GPS, pre-mapped information, and sensors to help guide them. The sensors include scanning LIDAR, cameras, and RADARs. The cars may or may not have a flux capacitor— this I can neither confirm nor deny.
The only incident they’ve reported was minor. One of Google’s vehicle was waiting at a light when it was rear-ended, presumably by a car driven by an old fashioned human.
When I heard this news, I immediately bowed down to our auto overlords. And then I e-mailed Wes (and so did four other colleagues).
Wes has been sort of working with Google with one of our radar sensors. I say “sort of” because Google was somewhat secretive in terms of what they were doing with these sensors, so Wes wasn’t really sure what his code was going into, but he had his suspicions.
And he was wrong. Very wrong. (Actually, we all were.)
“I just invent, then wait until man comes around to needing what I’ve invented.”
–R. Buckminster Fuller
Personally, I’m glad we were wrong because I think this is better than what we thought. I’m all for autonomous driving. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t place a lot of faith in my fellow man’s ability to drive. Or breath through his nose. The sooner we have autonomous cars, the better (even if I didn’t work in a related area).
Autonomous cars will drive the speed limit, won’t run red lights, and won’t flip you off as they cut in front of you in rush hour traffic. They will signal for lane changes and turns. They may even stop for school buses with flashing red lights and emergency vehicles.
Robot cars aren’t going to drink and then drive. They won’t fall asleep at the wheel. They won’t brandish a 9mm if you’re tailgating, at least not until Skynet, or whatever Google decides to call it, goes on-line.
This is a good thing.
Of course some will say that if we have autonomous cars, then people won’t pay attention behind the wheel. Well, that’s precisely the point. People already don’t pay attention behind the wheel. With robot cars, at least someone/something will be watching out.
Think about the people that need to be in robot cars: people that don’t want to drive; people that don’t pay attention; people that are bad drivers; people that wear hats. These people should not drive. Let these 99% of the population have robot cars so they continue texting, eating, reading or whatever these people do in cars, and let the other 1% drive in safety.
Car enthusiast should rejoice at this news. It’s a step towards removing bad drivers off the road. What could possibly go wrong?