10 October 2010

Google Car

NYTimes | John Markoff | Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic

Mountain View, Calif. — Anyone driving the twists of Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles recently may have glimpsed a Toyota Prius with a curious funnel-like cylinder on the roof. Harder to notice was that the person at the wheel was not actually driving.

The car is a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.

With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.

This bad boy is the future, and it can't come fast enough for me.

If it were up to me I would put all major investments in expanded commuting infrastructure, mass transit and car efficiency on hold and focus efforts on AI-controlled cars. You could gain extra capacity, extra efficiency, more safety, lower resource usage (in terms of both fuel and car materials), less traffic, more predictable trip times, not to mention a huge surplus of time for drivers.  You usually have to trade those things off against each other, but more research into autonomoous vehicles could give us improvements on all of those fronts.

The NYTimes says these are "years" away from mass production, which I guess is trivially true since any new car model takes a couple of years from drafting board to dealership floor. Even if we are a decade away from getting to own these, it blows me away how far we've come since ALVINN in the mid 90's or the latest DARPA "Grand Challenge" only 3 years ago.  There's a very real chance my children will never have to drive a car without at least an AI co-pilot to help out.  Bring on the future!

(Via The Daily What)

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