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Idealog—in the ideas business

Driving your own car is so passé. Google introduces self-driving robotic cars

No longer a concept reserved for futuristic movies, self-driving cars are closer to becoming a reality than you might think. In fact, they are a reality (just not yet a mainstream one) thanks to the Google empire. Presenting at a recent TED conference in Long Beach, California, Google’s head software engineer Sebastian Thrun showed videos of the car in action. 

The video below shows the car taking some pretty sharp turns at decent speeds on a closed-circuit road course.

And now a vantage point from inside the car... 

So what’s the point of the whole exercise? Thrun had this to say on a company blog last year: 

"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.” 

And that road to prevention involves some pretty large targets.

“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents,” says Thrun. “We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half.” 

Thrun says the cars work by using video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps for navigating the path ahead.

“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.”


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