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Google Trials Self-Driving Car

Google have recently confirmed that they are testing self-driving cars; Sebastian Thrun, a distinguished software engineer at Google, posted on the official Google blog stating that the California based company were trialling autonomous vehicles. In his post, Thrun discusses the motivations behind the move, suggesting that Google was always built on an ethos of using modern technology to solve major problems. With an autonomous vehicle, Google hope to reduce carbon emissions and improve road safety, whilst also giving more time back to drivers to focus on things other than controlling their vehicle.

The fleet of cars, which have logged 140,000 miles so far in the US, utilise video cameras (including a roof mounted camera), radar sensors and even a laser range finder which can effectively ‘see’ other vehicles on the road.

Whilst reducing emissions and freeing up time for commuters are both excellent benefits of the autonomous system, the real aim is the considerable reduction of deaths from road accidents, currenly sitting around a staggering 1.2million people per year. Google hopes the removal of the ‘human error’ factor could markedly reduce this number, saving hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

Despite the numerous successful journeys completed by Google’s self-driving fleet however, the vehicle is unlikely to go into production anytime in the near future. Whilst the technology may not be too far away from production standard and safety testing, the law in both the US and the UK would need to be modified in order to accomodate an autonomous vehicle.

In general, road laws, insurance claims and criminal prosecutions are based on the notion of human error and assignable fault; this is removed with an autonomous system, creating a myriad of legal ‘grey areas’. For example, would Google as the software manufacturer, be liable in the case of every accident? If that were to be the case, this would undoubtedly disuade the company from putting the software into mass production.

Either way, it’s the best example of a truly autonomous vehicle that we’ve seen to date, and it appears to be the first capable of making lengthy journeys littered with other vehicles and the general unpredictability of the modern world. It will be interesting to see whether or not we will see an autonomous vehicle in our lifetime, as the concept opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to personal transport.


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