Google’s self-driving car, parked outside San Francisco after a road test.
Yesterday Google announced that it had created the world’s first self-driving car. The Google car is easily the most impressive innovation from the company to date. Speculation has stirred for years about the possibility of robotic, auto-driving cars, but most of it imagined a future in which highways were lined with sensors that communicated with corresponding sensors in cars. That Google has managed to make this a reality using only WiFi and its own technology is astounding. I mean, even in “Back To The Future 2″ the flying cars needed to be driven by somebody.
Although the cars are at least eight years away from being consumer-ready according to the New York Times, Google’s invention will mean a couple things to our futures: One, it will mean that it’s time to party—no more worrying about drunk driving. Two, it will mean that Los Angeles, whose two oft-bemoaned achilles heels are traffic and drunk driving, is about to become an exponentially better place to live. Sure, there will still be traffic, but it’ll sting a lot less if you can just read a book or watch a movie as you’re inching down the freeway.
The company has been testing out a fleet of self-driving cars for the last year. Both the car’s invention and the testing process indicate a tight level of cooperation between Google and the government. Google hired as its self-driving engineering team a group that won the Pentagon’s robotics auto-driving challenge, created by its DARPA wing. DARPA is responsible for creating both the internet and GPS, the two components that make the self-driving car possible, so it seems appropriate that the agency would be involved in this innovation.
Of course automated cars do raise many ethical questions—the cars are able to function in large part thanks to Google’s “data centers,” which process enormous amounts of information. If Google’s servers ever crashed, causing accidents between cars whose drivers were literally asleep at the wheel, who would be responsible for the accident? I guess we’ll have a few years to figure out the ethical and legal implications, but one thing is for sure—when Google decides to launch a product into the world, it usually ends up becoming reality.
Watch a brief display of the self-driving car in action, from New York Times: