I, for one, can't help having the mind boggled. Cars that drive themselves coming finally coming out of the domain of Knight Rider, and onto actual roads?! That's just frickin awesome! (or maybe I've just been watching this Louis CK clip too often - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk)
driving smoothly and leaving traffic gaps ahead can prevent traffic jams or slowdowns
Having just a small percentage of automated cars with traffic optimizing behavior may actually increase road capacity.
An other traffic optimization (which doubles down as a gas optimization) is "car trains": cars following one another very closely (much more closely than human drivers would handle)
Cooperation would already go a long way to solving congestion with just local cooperation though:
* higher road density (cars can pretty literally travel bumper-to-bumper)
* better handling of congestion (car train can smooth local slowdowns over all its component cars)
* much, much improved merging and splitting of roads (including local flow analysis e.g. a small road merging into a bigger interstate with a 3:1 traffic ratio could be managed into a "perfect" 3:1 merge frequency)
* simplified urban planning (if only cooperative automated cars are on the road, you can get rid of red lights)
You could hardly be any less correct. This is by far the most major and interesting feature enabled by auto-driven and cooperative cars: http://www.sartre-project.eu/en/Sidor/default.aspx
> as it's still really dangerous.
Sebastian Thrun works for Google now. He's one of the world's foremost experts in the field.
I'd say they could be the major provider for driverless car technology. I don't think they should get into actual car manufacturing.
Naw. They are hoping that instead of spending your time behind the wheel, you will be spending it on the internet watching some Google ads.
1) They can sell them (the market is enormous)
2) It's fun and interesting
3) Great for the overall company image (as innovators)
That said, why is Google the only high-profile company looking into this? I've heard about the DARPA Grand Challenge, but that always seemed to be about hobbyists and university teams. I see there are quite a few groups interested in the concept, but it seems like only GM is the other company who bothered looking into it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driverless_car#Key_players
I suppose car companies are set in their ways and don't want to create a future that takes drivers out of the equation (though it's not as if people won't be flocking to buy driverless cars anyways), but why not any other tech companies?
The hobbyist/university teams are an excellent staging ground to get started; but any other company could have put in the investment that Google did. I would have loved to have seen a CMU/Red Whittaker/GM collaboration. It would have made for a poetic little "revive the rust belt with the robot car industry" story too. Given the response to the Detroit Superbowl Chrysler ad, looks like the public love that sort of story...
In other words, it probably only takes an accident, not even culpability, to get demonized.
The fatality rate in the US is around 30k-40k every year.
 - http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/People/PeopleAllVictims.aspx
Honestly, I predict that people will hate the way driverless cars drive, as well. For many reasons, including liability, such cars will have to drive in a nicer (more defensive) way than most people do.
A driverless car won't tailgate and so it let people in, even if they're "cheating" in heavy traffic. Some people will absolutely hate that, even if it helps traffic flow better.
I actually did that while traveling to work this very morning :) No need to dive into the future for that. It's called public transportation.
I also drive from Canada to Florida multiple times a year. 24 hours wasted but it's better than flying, more freedom to stop and relax, better food and less stress overall and more space to carry stuff. With these cars I'd be in heaven (not literally).
The car computer saying "yeah, that just cost him a 50 dollar fine" would be absolutely loved by its users.
And it would force the other drivers to drive by the rules.
Human drivers may be crap (though a human driver not actively being an idiot can generally travel many millions of miles between serious accidents) but I think it'll take a lot of R&D before robots can match 'em.
edit: Really? I got modded down for this? Go talk to one of the engineers on the Google driverless car program about how long he thinks it'll be before driverless cars are safer than the median human driver on a busy suburban street.
There are cases like the busy parking lot where human control will likely be necessary well into the future, there are cases which can be addressed today, and there are cases which were addressed successfully over 20 years ago. Look up Ernst Dickmanns - he was an early pioneer in this field, and had an autonomous vehicle driving on European highways in traffic in the 80's. It's really easy to say that this is an impossible problem to tackle, but the person who says something can't be done should make damn sure he's not getting in the way of the person doing it.
I did my M.S. on this topic, so although I would not claim to be an expert in the field at Google's level, I do believe strongly in the technology and have given it more than cursory thought. The larger problems are more societal than technological, and as such I really hope that Google makes this happen because they have the societal clout to get people on board with the idea that a computer can, for most of the miles you drive, do a better job of getting you from A to B than you can.
Sure, I think we're in complete agreement here. But the idea raised in the article that we're going to see driverless cabs on the Las Vegas Strip? I really don't think so. The day when we can trust a completely driverless car to wander round on its own without hitting anything is a helluva long way off.
In the meantime my main concern is that the hybrid human/computer driver might wind up with the worst features of both. It'd be much like an airliner, which can pretty much fly itself from origin to destination 99% of the time, but needs a carefully trained pilot for the occasions when something goes wrong... except that when an unexpected situation crops up on the road it requires a split-second decision, not the several minutes which airline pilots usually get.
all it takes is 1 car out of millions to cast doubt on the whole concept, or one person to do something stupid and blame it on the car to cause a PR firestorm.
There are obviously safety measures that will be in place, but I want to know how robust they're going to be and how much PR they're gonna put into this.
If robots start taking over a lot of the work, people will start wearing coats made out of solved captchas or something.
Not what one would expect on any train especially an automated train.
I would probably start testing in the Carson City, Reno, Sparks area. You can get a flight from the bay to Reno that takes 45 minutes. If you need to take cars back and forth to Mountain View it is only a 3-4 hour drive. The capital is Carson City so if you need access to the legislature you have it. There's also very diverse geography and lots of public roads available for testing. If you need populated areas or unpopulated areas everything is here all while being a lot closer to Google than Las Vegas is.
So nice to see an organization with so much wealth and power spending it on important problems.
1. Save lives by eliminating drunk, distracted, and sleepy drivers.
2. Greatly increase fuel efficiency.
3. Permit commutes where people can work, sleep, or watch movies, enabling greater freedom to live where they wish. This is more economically efficient by allowing more people to take jobs they otherwise would not have.
Yes, I'm very glad to see Google working on problems that save lives, save the environment, and make everyone happier. I'm glad you're glad too!
That "keeps you in your lane" technology is the last piece of the puzzle, and shouldn't be a tremendous legal hurdle if the other two pieces are already legal.
I imagine there would have to be some sort of blackbox device like airplanes in for safety, learning and obviously insurance purposes...
Since anyone who owns a car (and wants to drive with the same on a public road) has to have insurance this really is no big deal. Currently accidents can result in you having to pay more for your insurance and different people have to pay different amounts of money (an 18-year-old with a Golf GTI has to pay more) but there really is no rational reason for insurances to do that when someone is driven by a robot car. Insurances are interested in statistics, not fear mongering.
I really don't see the big problem. Compulsory insurances solved the problem of liability without guilt a long time ago (1940 in Germany – hey, it's a Nazi law).
You might argue that the manufacturer of the robot car should pay for the insurance but I don't think such a change would even be necessary. Even if, it wouldn't be a big deal.