Cars that drive themselves


Napping at the wheel might become a bit less dangerous

Frank Elechi

It’s something straight out of The Jetsons.

Last Saturday, Google revealed that it has been test running their driverless cars on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles, clocking up an incredible 225,000 test-driving kilometers.

Google’s fleet of automated cars uses video cameras, radar sensors, and a laser range finder to see the world and traffic around them. They combined all that technology with a detailed database of maps.

According to Google, the current experimental driverless cars “are never unmanned” – a human operator sitting behind the steering wheel can always take control with all the effort of someone switching out of cruise control. A backseat driver has also been keeping a constant eye on the technology used to steer the car, including roof-mounted video, radar, and laser range-finding sensors.

Google aims to improve road safety with this new development. Commuters would be freed up to do other things in the car – such as surf the web.

As the Financial Times notes, “Google has already mapped and photographed hundreds of thousands of miles of roads around the world for its Street View service, including road signs and other information which may be useful for its driverless cars.”

The driverless car isn’t perfected yet. But, what was once considered to be nothing more than science fiction could soon be standard on the car of the future.

“While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science,” Thrun, a software engineer, said.

The University of Regina’s Dr. David DeMontigny of the faculty of Engineering and Applied Science thinks this idea is an interesting one.

“To kick against it from the outset wouldn’t be fair because I haven’t seen much of it and Google has a group of skilled engineers working for them.”

About whether this technology will achieve one of its main goals to improve highway safety he says that “when this technology matures and many more people get to use the same driverless cars, it might improve safety.”

Dr. David expects this technology to face similar resistance other technologies encountered prior to their introduction or early use.

“Nobody ever thought we could fly. This technology is an idea for the future, but then it has to mature with time. This could take ten, twenty, or thirty years from now”

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