Thursday, May 29, 2014

Self driving cars

I heard on NPR yesterday that Google is building self-driving cars for a wider audience than their Google Maps cars. I'll get to that, but first I want to give you some background.

This first video runs about 50 minutes. It's an episode of NOVA about the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005 or so. They had two of these challenges. The first was a complete failure and the second had several cars complete the race as well as some really innovative also-rans. I've watched this episode a bunch of times. I love it.

I saw additional video at a Smithsonian museum where a couple of brothers who were developing for the competition created a truck that ended up being able to drive in the beating rain when the humans lost all visibility.

That was followed a couple of years later with the DARPA Urban Challenge where the self-driving cars had to navigate a city and obey traffic laws instead of just navigate a route in the country like in the first challenges.

Development of the vehicles continued after that and people who participated in these challenges started getting jobs at car companies interested in exploring the idea. Stanford in particular became a major partner in these projects.

A couple of years after that, Google started using self driving cars as their Street View cars. Mostly just on the highway and the drivers could take over at any time. They only had 3 accidents. Once when the human was driving and twice when someone hit them. Recently Google started taking these cars into the cities.

Google has been buying robotics companies like made lately. Presumably with these cars in mind.

This is a demonstration of a couple of cars in Google's new fleet.

I love the blind guy feeling the car so he knows what he's driving.

And here's the NPR article that talks more about them. [link]
No steering wheel, no gas or break pedals, and no windshield wipers.

They're restricted to 25 MPH until confidence in the tech builds. At those speeds I'm picturing them on college campuses, military bases, airports, and the like. Cities like Washington DC, which are pretty much just giant campuses, anyway, could make good use of them.

My Prius watched the cars in front of me and knows which lane is mine. It does some gentle steering and hits the brakes for me when it needs to. I fully expect my next car to be able to drive me to Kansas without me paying attention.

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