Just a few years ago, most consumers only recognized Google for the work that it did in the search engine space. Currently, the California-based technology company is an influential player in a number of different industries, including the telecommunications and social networking arenas.
Google took another massive step away from its core business over the weekend by announcing that it is in the process of developing self-driving automobiles that are capable of changing lanes, braking and maneuvering around other cars, all without having a human being behind the wheel.
Engineers with the technology giant have been working on the project for some time, and are currently road-testing seven automated cars all around the state of California. The vehicles are equipped with cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder that allow them to "see" other cars, according to a recent company blog. The automobiles are also loaded with innovative software that enables them to recognize speed limits, traffic patterns and road maps.
Project leader Sebastian Thrun noted in the blog post that the cars are never completely unmanned. A trained safety driver is always in the passenger seat to monitor the software and take over the controls if needed. As of this past weekend, the seven cars have traveled a total of 140,000 miles across major California roads.
"They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe," wrote Thrun.
The only on-road accident occurred when one of the automated cars was rear-ended when it was stopped at a traffic light, according to The New York Times.
Members of Google's top brass believe the project will eventually help prevent traffic accidents, reduce carbon emissions and double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive closer to each other.
However, to make automated driving a reality, Google will have to address several issues that have nothing to do with technology.
“The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” Bernard Lu, a senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, told the New York Times. “If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.”
The project, which is many years away from completion, is being run by a team of engineers that were involved in the 2007 DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Beecher Tuttle is a Web Editor for SDNzone. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf