Google Tests Self-Driving Cars

    October 11, 2010

Thanks – or perhaps just due to – Google, the era of the autonomous car may be approaching.  This weekend, the company announced that it’s been developing self-driving vehicles, and the experiment has already achieved results that imply success.

It seems that seven cars were outfitted with Google’s new tech quite some time ago, and Sebastian Thrun, who holds the title "Distinguished Software Engineer," wrote on the Official Google Blog, "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."

Some other important facts: the cars are considered legal (a person stays in the driver’s seat, ready to take over if necessary), they’re not custom-made (the fleet consists of six Toyota Priuses and an Audi TT), and the only accident that’s occurred happened when a human driver managed to rear-end a test vehicle stopped at a traffic light.

Google thinks self-driving cars will be able to reduce energy consumption by eliminating unproductive behaviors.  The company’s tech might cut the number of people hurt and killed in accidents, too, and of course the occupants of self-driving cars could take their eyes off the road to do other things.

GoogleStill, this isn’t necessarily a development that should thrill everyone.  Some analysts and shareholders are concerned that Google’s branching out into yet another odd area of research where there’s no obvious profit angle.

Then there’s the classic "if Microsoft made your car" list of concerns to consider.

Finally, it’s a simple fact that many people enjoy driving, and have no desire to be chauffeured around.  Heck, your humble author hasn’t even taken advantage of cruise control more than three or four times, and plenty of people are willing to pay several times the cost of a basic vehicle for a sports car that provides a more "connected" experience.

In any event, John Markoff, who interviewed several people connected with Google’s project, wrote, "Even the most optimistic predictions put the deployment of the technology more than eight years away."