“Roads…? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!” Okay, so we still need roads, perhaps what Doc Brown should have said was “where we’re going we don’t need drivers,” because that is rapidly becoming the case thanks to modern technology. You see, in the future cars will drive themselves. And one of the companies paving the way for that very future is Google and its self-driving car project; a project which we might add has proven without a doubt that autonomous vehicles are no longer an object of science fiction.
How so? Well, the Internet search giant has clocked in over 300,000 miles testing its self-driving Toyota Prius, sweeping across city-scapes and suburbs alike. Now, it looks to add another hybrid to the mix, the Lexus RX450h, as it turns its attention to more treacherous and tricky road conditions.
“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,” Chris Urmson, Engineering Lead of the Self-driving program wrote on Google’s official blog.
With the RX450h’s electric all-wheel-drive system Google should have little difficulty traversing the tricky terrain it has planned.
In addition to incorporating the RX450h into its fleet of autonomous test vehicles, Google will soon begin to alter the way its self-driving teams go about their research. Right now, two person teams are employed for test drives at all times, but that number will drop down to one as team members begin to utilize the vehicles for their daily commutes and other conventional tasks.
With the reduction of one driver, we have to ask: When will we see a Google car without any human overseers? The answer: Probably not anytime soon. Despite the fact that Google’s self-driving car has gone more than 300,000 without incident, Google says it will keep a watchful pair of eyes in the car in case something does go awry. Furthermore, in order for Google to operate its self-driving cars in California, a licensed driver must be behind the wheel at all times.
Of course, questions arise as to why Google has chosen to delve into the autonomous driving technology market in the first place. For a company that so handily dominates the search engine business, and has other lucrative arms, it doesn’t add up entirely. But perhaps this question is answered in Urmon’s blog entry when he writes, “Technology is at its best when it makes people’s lives better, and that’s precisely what we’re going for with our self-driving car project. We’re using advanced computer science to try and make driving safer and more enjoyable.”
That may be, but should Google’s motives prove less altruistic the reality is it doesn’t really matter, short of some maniacal plot to overthrow the world powers and install its own Google government. Although, with the way the company is run we can’t say we’d mind all that much.
Nevertheless, the realization of our nerd-fueled childhood fantasies is slowly taking shape, and we couldn’t be happier.
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy a ride through the history of self-driving cars
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