Ready for the highway train? Google cooks up cars that drive themselves

Google has created automated cars that drive themselves. These robots have a trained driver riding shotgun, but these automated autos have already logged more than 140,000 miles in California.

One of Google's side experiments could have a big impact on the future of automobiles.

Google has created automated cars that drive themselves. These robots have a trained driver riding shotgun, but these automated autos have already logged more than 140,000 miles in California.

In a blog post and an advance to the New York Times, Google outlined how these robot cars work.

  • First, these cars use video cameras, radar and laser range finders to see traffic.
  • Detailed maps are used to navigate roads.
  • Google's data centers crunch the information so the cars can handle their tasks.
  • The cars have a trained driver that can take over for the robot.
  • A sensor on the roof scans 200 feet in all directions. Sensors measure movements to locate position. A camera is the eyes and ears of the vehicle.
  • The cars can be programmed to be cautious or any other driving personality.
  • Police knew about the experiment.
  • Google's grand experiment includes engineers from DARPA as well as Carnegie Mellon and Stanford.
  • There's no business model yet, but who really cares at this point?

Where's this headed? Google talks of improved safety as well as car sharing. In addition, highway trains could take hundreds of people to work. Google is giving a new definition to cruise control.

I'm not sure whether to be wowed or freaked out by this Google development. After all, I barely trust my GPS.

A few questions:

  • Who would be liable in an accident? Would Google?
  • What kind of reliability could we expect?
  • What is the profit motive for Google?
  • Would drivers trust a remote data center with their safety?
  • What's the society ROI?