Google tests driverless cars on US roads

Google is apparently expanding its hands-free technology.  Not for talking on the phone while driving, but for driving itself.  The company just revealed that it’s been testing robot driven cars on U.S. roadways to the tune of some 140,000 miles.

The cars, specially adapted Toyota Priuses, have been driving around the state of California on the Pacific Coast Highway and Lombard Street in San Francisco, which is one of the steepest and most curved streets in the country.  Some cars apparently went across Golden Gate Bridge as well.

The company further revealed that seven of the cars, that are especially equipped with funnel shaped cylinders that act as eyes, have gone 1000 miles or more at once, without a human driver in control, although there are humans present in the car. A person actually sits in the driver’s position, in case something goes foul, and a computer tech sits in the shotgun seat in case the software messes up.

The program’s director said there has only been a single accident and that was when one of the robot driven autos was rear-ended by a human driven auto.  The cars use a combination of radar sensors, video cameras, and laser range finders to navigate.

A “scout” is sent out in a conventional automobile, mapping the route the robot car will take.  It carefully takes note of lane dividers, traffic signals, and other road markers.  In this way the car is given advanced familiarizations with the characteristics of the route.  Local police are also contacted regarding the robot drive.

Google says the goal is to reduce commuter time, freeing people to do something more productive with their time, and to help reduce carbon footprints by changing the fundamentals of driving itself.