Several movies have depicted a driverless car as an everyday convenience that we’ll experience in the future. Remember Johnny Cab from ‘Total Recall’, anyone?
Welcome to the future!
Wait, you didn’t know that we’re in the future? Well, we are, except this future features no annoying animatronic cabbie. Instead, we can boast a driverless car that has (so far, anyway) an impeccable safety rating after several months of road testing.
Google has equipped a fleet of Toyota Priuses with cameras, radar sensors and laser range-finders to detect other traffic. To round things out, software uses Google Maps to navigate routes. To date, two human drivers have been in each car and can override the computer to take control in case of malfunction. According to Google, a dozen of these cars are on the road at any given time.
Google announced last week that its self-driving cars have now logged 300,000 miles of test drives under a variety of conditions without any kind of accident while the robotic driving system is at the wheel. Compare that to the average American driver and the Google car comes out ahead: U.S. drivers have one accident roughly every 165,000 miles, according to Mashable. The few accidents Google project cars have seen have been when humans were at the wheel.
Google is moving forward with the project, and will now start using just one human per car. They’ve also added the Lexus RX450h to their Prius fleet. More testing is in order, to include a wider array of driving conditions and environments. Says Chris Urmson –the driverless car team’s Engineering Lead– via the Google blog, “To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situation that many drivers encounter. For now, our team members will remain in the driver’s seats and will take back control if needed.”
Nevada has already cleared the way for the driverless car to be licensed in their state; the cars will be differentiated from manned cars by red license places with an infinity symbol on them (to highlight their identity as ‘the car of the future’, according to the DMV). Clearance and the first license were issued after test drives took place in Carson City and Las Vegas, proving the Google car was as safe as -if not safer–than human-driven cars. Bruce Breslow, head of DMV, said, “It gets honked at more often because it’s being safe.”
That’s both funny and intriguing, as safety was the motivation for building the car in the first place. Sebastian Thrun, a member of the team responsible for building the Google driverless car, cites that as his impetus behind his life’s work: He wants to save lives. Watch his moving TED talk from last year, where he discusses this and the other benefits of this project: