The Google Self Driving Car Project has clocked-up 300,000 miles without crashing. This
excludes the moment a human temporarily took control and hit another vehicle – which
brings us nicely to one of the project's objectives... saving lives. Google's Sebastian Thrun
previously wrote that "according to the World Health Organization more than 1.2 million
lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents.” Many of these were caused by human
error. He added: “We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps
by as much as half." Google systems have so far been tested on fairly hospitable roads, but
will now be enhanced to handle conditions such as snow and temporary construction signs.
The Google Self Driving Car Project incorporates vehicles such as the Lexus RX450h and
Toyota Prius. These, of course, are equipped with numerous systems that enable them to
self drive. Highlights include the Lidar, which is a rotating roof mounted sensor that scans
more than two-hundred feet in every direction. Its purpose is to create a three-dimensional
map. The Position Estimator in the left rear wheel plots the car's location on this map, and
measures movement. This complements the video camera which is mounted close to the
rear-view mirror. This detects traffic lights and moving hazards such as pedestrians and
cyclists. Finally, front/rear sensors determine the positions of distant objects such as lorries.
It is clear that self driving cars will be a commercial reality in the future. After all, even
everyday vehicles from today change gear, maintain speed, brake, and steer into parking
bays automatically. Fully automating the remaining systems might – and only might - be a
big step forwards in road safety. Not convinced? Try pressing that “manual override” button.
Driverless cars will soon be a reality
By Stephen Turvil
Thu, 27 Sep 2012