And so, the race towards far fewer drivers – But not necessarily fewer cars – on the road reaches another milestone, with the news that Google’s self-driving cars have successfully completed more than 300,000 miles of testing without either accident or an attempt by artificial intelligence to try and rise up and become our new robotic overlords. From such simple victories are built a future that will see all humanity chauffeured in style to their ultimate destinations.
In a blog post announcing the milestone today, Google Engineering Lead Chris Urmson wrote that the self-driving vehicles, “of which about a dozen are on the road at any given time,” have “covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn’t been a single accident under computer control” (Something that’s not entirely true; one of the cars was involved in an accident almost exactly a year ago, but happened to be under human control at the time; score one for the machines).
This is, of course, not the end of the road (Sorry) for the test process; having successfully proven that the self-driving vehicles can deal with regular road conditions, now come the more complicated environments. “To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter,” Urmson explained, adding that the next step is actually far more mundane than snow or even construction, instead being something that human drivers have to deal with almost every day: the rush-hour commute. “This is an important milestone, as it brings this technology one step closer to every commuter. One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars. For now, our team members will remain in the driver’s seats and will take back control if needed.”
Also being tested at the same time as the self-driving system’s ability to deal with every day road rage will be a new vehicle; as Urmson revealed, Google has added the Lexus RX450h to its fleet of cars outfitted with the self-driving capabilities. Another change is the reduction of the number of passengers in each test vehicle, with the next stage of testing having just one “passenger” per car, as opposed to the previous rule of pairs (Such passengers are necessary to take control of the car in case the system fails at any point during testing, as well as making it less obvious/terrifying to fellow drivers that the car next to them is being driven by a robot).
“With each breakthrough we feel more optimistic about delivering this technology to people and dramatically improving their driving experience,” Urmson summarized, closing his post with “We’ll see you on the road!” Especially if you live in the Bay Area, where the commute tests are going to take place. You’ll be able to recognize the cars; they’re the ones with the cameras on the roofs and the bored looking “drivers” whose hands aren’t even touching the wheel as they drive past you.