It is no longer science fiction, it is a reality: the driverless cars with Google software are circulating in the urban areas of Mountain View (California) to test the viability of the project, called Self-Driving Cars, which the company began in 2009.
As Chris Urmson, the project director, states, it is much more complex for an intelligent car to drive around a city than on open roads or motorways. This is because in the urban spaces the probability of unforeseen situations arising is much greater due to the presence of more “objects,” such as pedestrians, bikes, signals, traffic police, etc. The system must detect all these objects simultaneously and predict all the possible common and uncommon actions in order to react appropriately in each case; for example, a cyclist in front who signals their intention to turn using their hand. For this to work, Google is using the most advanced knowledge in computer science.
This is how the intelligent car works with Google technology.
Following its traditional company policy, Google has published the results a prudent amount of time after they began tests. The driverless cars have been travelling around urban areas for a year following software improvements on the previous tests carried out on the open road. In 2012 the Governor of California passed a law which permits them to circulate. (The states of Nevada and Florida had earlier done the same.) Nonetheless, the regulation stipulates that intelligent drive autonomous cars must circulate with a human co-pilot who can take control of the vehicle if necessary, although it seems their intervention has not been required to date.
The prototype self-driving cars are 24 Lexus RX450h, equipped with Google technology: a camera on the roof which records in all directions; recognition programs; radars; and different types of sensors, among other features. However, tests have been performed using other models, such as the Toyota Prius. Meanwhile, there are several car manufacturers who are investing in the development of their own intelligent cars (including Renault, Mercedes Benz, Nissan and Audi), and Google has announced their decision to manufacture their own model.
In this video, Steve Mahan, a man who has lost 95% of his sight, tests the Google car and comments on his experience.
We are still a few years away from driverless cars being common, but not many. There are still some technological and legal issues to resolve, but the future is already much closer.