We all know that Google, in best Star Trek style, boldly goes where others fear to venture, but branching out into driverless car technology is quite a leap even for its audacious founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
But that’s what it’s doing, spending a proportion of its whopping $2.8bn annual research budget on such technology with Carnegie Mellon and Stanford universities and some winners of the driverless car races comprising the Darpa Grand Challenge.
According to the Financial Times, Google self-driven cars have clocked up 140,000 miles mostly in its home territory of California including spins on the Pacific Highway, Hollywood Boulevard and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (gulp).
According to Google’s official blog: “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.”
The cars, which Google says were “never unmanned” (so does this mean they had drivers or just someone sitting in the back?) work via a combo of video cameras, radar sensors and lasers. Google’s existing Street View data is presumably helpful in steering these things away from ditches and, indeed, other road users.
Many upscale cars now have on-board computers that can take preventative action if the driver is wandering or nodding off. Mercedes S-class luxury cars are about to be fitted with a system that changes the suspension automatically to smooth out holes in the road.
Even so Sergey and Larry are going that extra mile.