People used to dream about this stuff. Now a large number of California drivers are looking out their windows and seeing in dramatic style a scientific vision made manifest on state roadways – robot cars.
Google robot cars, to be precise. Seven of them, hitting the pavement from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Over the past months, they have cumulatively covered more than 140,000 miles without a car accident, indeed, with nary a scratch. Concededly, on a few occasions the person sitting in the front seat has intervened to momentarily take control, but not often, and each of the cars has driven over 1,000 miles without anybody’s hands on the wheel.
Google scientists are truly hyped over the possibilities and the way they envision the future playing out. The vehicles will make traffic jams a thing of the past, they say, owing to the ability of advanced software and other features that will enable them to travel more closely together and free up highway space. They will be lighter, thus reducing fuel costs and our dependency on oil. And, importantly, they will increase individual – and thus national – productivity by enabling the persons inside them to focus on work and other matters rather than, well, driving.
The cars are obviously at a prototype stage, but Google scientists went to great lengths to ensure that the current version is legal, because a human driver can override instantly any of the on-board systems. The California Department of Motor Vehicles agrees.
As for when the cars are envisioned to be fully functional and at the stage where Google believes they will rival or surpass the Internet for changing the world, think at least a decade away, maybe more.
A stated hope of Google’s researchers is that some day we will be able to “text twice as much while driving, without the guilt.”
Related Resource: www.nytimes.com “Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic” October 9, 2010