Google Robot Cars – Automation Gone Too Far?

Google Robot Car

Our other passion here at Automated Home is cars so you might think we’d be into this whole automated driving Google Robot vehicle thing.

We’re not.  Now, call us Jeremy Clarkson sympathisers if you like, but this just looks like the beginning of the end for anyone that enjoys their driving.  We’re losing the musical multi-cylinder engines for smaller, more ordinary forced induction units these days, and don’t even get us started on the milk-float sound track from the Tesla.  Don’t get us wrong, we love technology in cars, just not the kind that takes away our driving pleasure.  Heck it’s not much of a leap from these robot cars to Skynet!  Read on for all the scary details and a video of one of these monster on the road.

“Larry and Sergey founded Google because they wanted to help solve really big problems using technology. And one of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.

So we have developed technology for cars that can drive themselves. Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. 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. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.

Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead. This is all made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain.

To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside. The work of these and other engineers on the team is on display in the National Museum of American History.

Safety has been our first priority in this project. Our cars are never unmanned. We always have a trained safety driver behind the wheel who can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control. And we also have a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software. Any test begins by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance. And we’ve briefed local police on our work.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. We’re also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow.” These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads. In terms of time efficiency, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Imagine being able to spend that time more productively.

We’ve always been optimistic about technology’s ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars beyond where they are today. While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting.”

Google Robot Cars

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8 Comments on "Google Robot Cars – Automation Gone Too Far?"

  1. Autonomous cars a bad thing? Not in my opinion.

    I’ve been communiting to and from work for the past 15 years – same ‘ol route. I could be doing other things – catching up with emails, paying bills (with a ‘net connection) or even sleeping!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love cars, I just don’t want to drive in the rush hour anymore.

    Sign me up now!

  2. Yep, agree, it depends – the way some people drive, full automation could be an improvement … and for people who like driving (which includes us) automation could be useful some times – eg: when mobile ‘phone rings, having the car look after itself for a while could be useful (press a button & it “parks” itself in lane one or two, for a while) …

  3. guess there’d have to be an additional light on cars, to show when they’re in auto’ … plus let’s hope it remains voluntary …

    in any case, though, we don’t have to just accept what’s imposed upon us, albeit these days we nearly always do – eg: that head-teacher who stood up at the party conference the other day & spoke her mind about all the things she’d had imposed on her over recent years, and was rewarded by being forced by her bosses to “work from home” – as soon as her children’s parents voiced their views, she was back on the job …

  4. BMW and Porsche cannot be thrilled with this development especially since there will be no need for their products. I predict that this technology will ultimately destroy the car industry as we know it and result in maybe one or two surviving companies offering a very limited product range. Think about it – why do people buy cars. Because they enjoy driving them. With automation, there is no need for different engine sizes etc, and all the other product offerings that automobile makers use to market there cars. Why would you even care about their styling or replacing them every few year. I know that if I were not driving my own vehicle, unlike today I would purchase the cheapest option on the lot and keep if for 20 to 30 years. In addition, cars will be bigger not smaller to accomodate things like small offices etc. If you think unemployment is bad now, wait until the millions of truck and cab drivers hit the rolls.

  5. panman,

    Will it destroy the car industry?

    Only in the same way that the car destroyed the horse-buggy industry.

    There are a huge number of cars out there, particularly at the top end, that are stuffed full of features for the passengers, not the driver – think Rolls Royce in the 1990s (when they were aiming RR at the chauffeur-driven market and Bentley at the people who wanted to drive…) or Maybach… or Long-Wheelbase Jaguars, Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-series.

    As for unemployment – just think how bad it was when millions of farm workers suddenly no longer had to work from 5am – 9pm, 7 days a week, just to cultivate an acre each. Technological innovation, at least over the last 2000 years, has consistently created far more jobs than it has destroyed.

  6. To say this is a bad things is incredibly short sighted. The article makes great points about safety, time savings, and evergy savings. In addition, there are so many people who cannot drive that this technology would help, for example, someone who has a seizure disorder or someone who is legally blind. These cars would help far more than hurt.

  7. Eric – of course this would bring advantages to some people, no argument there.

    Our problem is with this leading to lack of freedom for those of us that still want to drive and enjoy it.

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