What’s it like to ride in a car that drives itself? The “autopilot” robot car of the future isn’t science fiction anymore. Search giant Google has developed a driverless car. It’s going to be a while before these cars are available to the average consumer, but they’ve nevertheless been making technology news for the last year or so.

Forbes writer Joann Muller recently got in the Google car passenger seat and wrote about the experience. Let’s review the history of this amazing automobile and see what Muller thought.

 

Google Really Made a Car That Drives Itself?

Google’s driverless cars were first tested in Nevada, until Florida and finally California enacted legislation to allow the driving of automated cars on public roads. Some of us have even been lucky enough to spot one of Google’s amazing future cars motoring along city streets.

As far as traffic safety is concerned, only two crashes have been reported: one in which the Google car was being manually driven, and one in which it was rear-ended by another driver.

It’s pretty unsurprising that Google is the company behind an innovation like this; they seem pretty intent upon putting the future in the palm of your hand, and the driverless car is another way they’re doing it. Which is all well and good…but a lot of us still have one big question:

How in the name of HAL 9000 does a car drive itself?

How Does the Car of the Future Drive? With Lasers, of Course!

Forbes recently took a ride inside one of these incredible machines with a gentleman by the name of Chris Urmson, one of the lead designers on the project. The result is an eye-opening look at Google’s incredible driverless car, and how it does its thing.

(Hint: it involves a grand total of about $100 thousand in bonus technology. And no, you did not misread that.)

A color photo of a parked Google Maps camera-equipped car.

The cars that helped with the development of Google Maps were precursors to Google’s driverless car in more ways than one.

To work its magic, the Google driverless car uses a powerful roof-mounted laser sensor, as well as other lasers in the front and rear bumpers.

Then, a high-definition camera gives the car its view out the windshield, while another camera looks in at the occupants.

All this gear takes in an impressive amount of data, with the laser sensors capturing a million and a half range measurements every single second.

 

 

From Information to Visual Display

All this information is used to make sure the car navigates safely through traffic and other obstacles by combining the real-time camera data with very, very detailed maps. Each of these maps are created before the robot car hits the road.

This means that Google’s driverless car can’t take a route that hasn’t been plotted ahead of time — at least not yet — but it also means that passengers get a stunning display. As Muller reported:

“…a graphic depicted each of the cars around us as a white rectangle and tracked its movements relative to ours. It even picked up a motorcycle weaving its way between cars, despite the fact that it wasn’t traveling in a marked lane.”

Google has reportedly logged about 500,000 miles’ worth of unaided driving, but the driverless car is still years away from being available to the everyday consumer. Depending upon whom you ask, this is all either very exciting or very scary.

What do you think about the driverless car? Exciting, innovative idea? Or dangerous, unnecessary futurism? What if robots get road rage?! Sound off in the comments below!

 

See Also

Does Google Glass Live Up to the Hype?
LA Traffic Synchronization Reduces Daily Commutes, But Is Anyone Noticing?
Scambook is now on Google+

About The Author

Sean Boulger is a freelance writer and storytelling enthusiast living in LA. He loves television, pop culture, minimalism, and two cats.

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