Google’s Self-Driving Cars Gaining Acceptance

We’ve talked about Google’s self-driving cars before, and now they’ve taken another step forward. I doubt I’m alone in wishing for a car that could drive itself, especially for those long drives in the middle of the night when you roll down the windows and turn up the radio to keep awake. The whole notion of self-driving cars becoming a reality just crept a little closer with Nevada’s decision.

As a sort of icing on the cake, the regulations were even approved of by police and insurance companies, two groups I’d have thought would have been the most likely suspects to impede progress. The Google test cars will be given red license plates to differentiate them from other cars.

The fleet of modified Toyota Priuses used by Google has covered more than 190,000 miles. While chaperoned by an actual human, the cars have performed astonishingly well in city, highway and long distance travel. To date, the only accident involving one of these cars was when a human was actively at the wheel.

How Google's car sees the world.

How Google's car sees the world. Courtesy of Google.

If you aren’t familiar with how the cars operate, the autonomous vehicles rely mainly on Velodyne Lidar laser range finder, which is the thing you’ve seen in pictures on top of the car. The laser guidance is combined with detailed maps of the area to give the computer that drives the car some idea of what to expect, and allows it to check between stationary objects (like telephone poles) and mobile ones (like people).

The cars are equipped with a number of other data gathering instruments as well. These include radars mounted on both bumpers, a camera that watches for traffic lights, GPS and a number of other systems that help the car to know where it is and how far it has traveled.

The most important part of all the ingredients that go into the autonomous car stew is possibly the detailed maps created by Google researchers. GPS alone could be off by enough to cause accidents, but the combination of the maps, GPS and Velodyne Lidar keep the cars on track. I wonder how long it’ll be before Google introduces an app that takes measurements of how and where you drive to add more data to their maps.

Below you’ll find a video that covers how the Google cars operate.

Sources: Spectrum, PCMag

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