The Rise of Google’s iCar

With the recent advancements in robotics, automation, navigation, and self-driving vehicles, all spurred on by the DARPA Challenge and the research at Georgia Tech among other programs, it’s no surprise to hear that Google has been working very hard on these same kinds of technology.

Sebastian Thrun, Distinguished Software Engineer at Google, recently announced on their blog that so far Google’s efforts to create a self-driving car have been largely successful, though he made it a point to say that the program was still very much in the experimental stages.

Most notable about this program is that Google’s cars have driven 140,000 miles under their own control since the program’s inception. According to Thrun, Google’s cars have “driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe.” This is very impressive news; however, Google has yet to release specific technical information and timelines as to how long it has pursued this technology.

Despite the excitement of this announcement, it’s important for readers to understand that mass-produced and publicly available robotic cars are years away. All of Google’s tests with their cars have been conducted with a trained driver behind the wheel and ready to takeover, as well as an engineer in the passenger seat who monitors the software program. The technology is probably very expensive and ill-suited to mass production. And today’s drivers, despite their supposed familiarity with new technology in their vehicles, are probably not yet ready for something like this.

But while the fully robotic and self-driving car is far off, these developments do have some immediate applications, especially in vehicle safety and collision avoidance. Already we’ve seen similar automated safety systems at work in new cars, such as the collision avoidance system in the E550 from Mercedes-Benz and the pedestrian warning system in the Volvo S60. So we know that these features can become a reality with enough time, research and development, and financial investment.

So what sort of timeline are we looking at regarding how long we’ll have to wait for the complete package of these safety developments?

Well, Volvo has announced a program called Vision 2020, the goal of which is to create a zero-fatality Volvo by 2020. Google hasn’t yet released a time table, but Thrun is equally optimistic.

He writes “We’ve always been optimistic about technology’s ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars.” Thrun hopes to cut the number of traffic fatalities in half, which is currently around 1.2 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. This is good news for future generations of drivers.

*Author: This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: olivia.coleman33

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