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Google's Driverless Car Project - Is It Real?

Updated on December 3, 2017

The Next Big Thing In Car Technology

In 2012, a news story took the world by surprise - Google announced that it had created a driverless car that could navigate safely independently of human control. All around the world people asked each other, “Have you heard about Google’s Driverless Car Project, Is it Real?”

A Brief History of the Driverless Car

Automobiles are one of the most widely-used forms of computer technology. Cars aren’t often thought of as having benefitted from the advent of computer technology, but the truth is that almost every model of car produced in the last three decades has had some form of computer inside it. These computers alert drivers to problems deep inside the engine, among other things. The dashboard lights that alert drivers to low oil levels, rising engine temperature, and other forms of mechanical trouble all switch on in response to the monitoring done by a built-in computer.

These computers have helped make the driving experience considerably easier. There is now much less guess work involved in auto repair and maintenance. Mechanics and auto technicians can simply connect a car’s computer to a diagnostic console to determine what’s wrong with it. Thanks to the integration of GPS technology, our cars can help us get from place to place with greater ease, too. Additionally, a continuous satellite link between a vehicle’s computer and security agencies protects drivers who are stranded or in an accident.

Still, even with all this built-in computer technology the car has remained a tool in the hands of its driver. The person sitting behind the wheel calls the shots; as a driver, you can choose to ignore the route suggested by your GPS system or decide that you can delay maintenance for another month. A few years ago, the Google Corporation took the next step and decided to create a car that could drive itself.

The Driverless Experiment

Not long ago, the world sat up and took notice of Google’s announcement that a car controlled by a computer had fewer accidents than one driven by a human being. Actually, according to Google, their driverless car was able to complete 300,000 miles without a single accident. In contrast, a human driver is statistically likely to have one accident every ten years or every 165,000 miles. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each American driver covers 16,550 miles in their vehicle every year; according to the Allstate Insurance Company a driver will have an accident every ten years. Even some of the safest drivers are statistically likely to be in an auto accident; once every fourteen years, according to figures provided by Allstate.

In other words, the driverless car created by Google was able to cover almost twice the number of miles driven by a human driver between accidents. Google also adds that their car was able to accomplish this astonishing feat in a “wide range of conditions”.

So How Does it Work?

Once world news agencies were assured that Google had, in fact, achieved a significant milestone in the development of automotive technology, the question everyone started asking was, “How does it work?”

Google’s driverless car began life as a standard Toyota Prius. For the experiment, several Priuses were used; much later, a Lexus RX450h was added to the fleet, thus proving that the equipment used for navigation could be adapted to a range of vehicles.

To convert a vehicle from a drivable model to a driverless one, Google had to create an array of sophisticated laser sensors, radar sensors, rangefinders, cameras, and microprocessors. Not unexpectedly, each vehicle was also equipped with the very latest Google Maps technology. High-powered computers processed all the information received from the laser and radar sensors and integrated that with information from the satellite data that comprises Google Maps.

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A Successful Experiment

By all accounts, Google’s driverless car experiment was a complete success. The project’s team was able to send the car out on many long and complicated driving routes. Beginning at the Googleplex in California’s Silicon Valley, the altered vehicles went to Santa Monica in Los Angeles, down San Francisco’s famously winding Lombard Street, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and along the Pacific Coast Highway. The driverless car even found its way around the edge of Lake Tahoe.

So what comes next? It appears that Google ultimately wants to create a vehicle that can take its driver safely from one place to another, but a lot of work still has to be done before the average consumer can buy cars that can drive on their own. Until then, we’ll have to drive ourselves and leave the experimenting to the folks at Google.


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