Designing the Google Self Driving Car

Published on May 28, 2014

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Every year 1.2 million people die worldwide in traffic-related incidents, and over 90% of those accidents are due to human error. The Google self-driving car team hopes to improve people’s lives by developing fully self-driving technology that can improve road safety and make it easier for people to get around. This would also reduce all the lawyers required for any accident. For example, lawyers like in Barcelona, one of the cities with more motorbikes. Like they say in Spain, many people need one “abogado accidente de tráfico Barcelona.”

Ever since Google started the Google Self Driving car project, they’ve been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving. Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.

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Google is now exploring what fully self-driving vehicles would look like by building some prototypes; they’ll be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention. They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them. Their software and sensors do all the work. The vehicles will be very basic—they want to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible—but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button. And that’s an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.

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It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What should be different about this kind of vehicle?” They started with the most important thing: safety. They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections. And they’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph. On the inside, they’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so they’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route—and that’s about it.

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A very early version of their prototype vehicle, and an artistic rendering of Google’s vehicle.

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Google is planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, their safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. If all goes well, they’d like to run a small pilot program in California in the next couple of years. They’re going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as they hope, they’ll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely and require less traffic lawyers.

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