Google, after spending years testing the technology behind their fully autonomous cars, is in the final stages of a regulatory process in Nevada that may soon make the vehicles street legal. But now comes the hard part: convincing an already wary public that it's perfectly safe to share the road with what is essentially a robot on wheels.
So with that in mind, Google has released a video of a blind man being completely at ease behind the wheel of one of the company's test vehicles. In the three minute clip, Steve Mahan, who is 95 percent blind, is shown seated comfortably as the rigged Toyota Prius carefully navigates the streets of Morgan Hill, California during a warm day back in January. Mahan "drove" (don't know whether that's technically accurate or not) the vehicle using a pre-determined route, doing some mundane things along he way like picking up his dry cleaning and ordering a burrito at a Taco Bell drive-thru.
The main point to all of this was to demonstrate just how seamlessly Google's navigation technology worked -- coordinating the whole experience so effortlessly that even a blind person can get around town without, in a literal sense, having to lift a finger.
"This is some of the best driving I've ever done," Mahan chuckled as he took a sharp turn on his way to the cleaners.
He's not the only one excited about the vehicle's potential to enable the disabled. Eric Bridges, the government affairs director for the American Council of the Blind (who's also blind), had a chance to ride one of the vehicles to Google headquarters last year and was impressed with how smooth the trip went.
"We had it out on the Interstate and allowed it to take over. It was pretty amazing, going in between lanes, making sure there was enough distance between us and the car next to us in another lane,” he told FoxNews.com.
To their credit, the search giant has made a concerted effort to be reassuringly transparent about the project. In October, project head Sebastian Thrun and Google engineer Chris Urmson gave a detailed presentation at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in San Francisco, where he discussed the ins and outs of how the self-driving technology worked.
Still, Google has acknowledged that the technology was under development. On their web site, the company wrote, “There’s much left to design and test, but we've now safely completed more than 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, gathering great experiences and an overwhelming number of enthusiastic supporters.”
They've also well aware of the fact that any support for a project of this nature is tenuous and that the public and media will continue to scrutinize their efforts in the event of any mishaps. As much was evident back in August when an eyewitness spotted a collision involving a test car and another near the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California. But the opportunity to completely transform transportation for the better is ultimately what motivates them to forge ahead.
"They’re helping to change the world in a lot of ways," Bridges said in an interview.