Google has automated cars (Toyota Prius) 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.
Google 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
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.
Christopher Urmson, a Carnegie Mellon University robotics scientist, was behind the wheel but not using it. To gain control of the car he has to do one of three things: hit a red button near his right hand, touch the brake or turn the steering wheel. He did so twice, once when a bicyclist ran a red light and again when a car in front stopped and began to back into a parking space. But the car seemed likely to have prevented an accident itself
The Google researchers said they had carefully examined California’s motor vehicle regulations and determined that because a human driver can override any error, the experimental cars are legal.
There is even the farther-off prospect of cars that do not need anyone behind the wheel. That would allow the cars to be summoned electronically, so that people could share them. Fewer cars would then be needed, reducing the need for parking spaces, which consume valuable land.
1. LIDAR: In addition to video cameras able to see pedestrians and bicyclists, Google’s cars are equipped with a light detection and ranging, or “LIDAR” sensor on the roof able to give the car’s computers a 3-D map of the world around the car out to 230 feet — in all directions — Markoff reports.
2. Radar Sensors: four sensors give the car’s computers a sense of what’s going on in front of the car and in back, at the same time. Not terribly exotic, considering some cars already have radar, but hooking four up to a computer at the same time gives the car an ability to see things humans driving most cars can’t.
3. SLAM: Think of this as Google Maps on steriods. Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, or SLAM, let’s the car update a map Google’s cars uses to make its way through the world even it helps each car make find its place in it, Markoff reports. The first run is made by Google’s engineers on their own, then the cars record any changes they see in their environment as they move through it. The result: they won’t do some of the stupid stuff humans do when they get lost, like turn down one-way streets.
4. Better humans: Of course, the ultimate safety feature is the human driver in every car. Google has hired a dozen people with “perfect” driving records to drive around with its cars — stepping in if anything goes awry, Markoff reports. Can’t be too many people like that in California. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard about this project.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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