Google’s Driverless Cars

The idea of self-driving cars as a means of reducing accidents and congestion has been around for a long time and self-driving cars are definitely coming to the roads of the future. The Google Self-Driving Car (SDC), is a project by Google X that involves developing technology for autonomous cars, mainly electric cars. The software powering Google’s cars is called Google Chauffeur. Google first started testing its driverless technology using a Toyota Prius in 2009, the year the Google self-driving car project was born. Google has said it plans to make the cars available to the public in 2020.

Lots of people aren’t paying attention to the road. In any given daylight moment in America, there are 660,000 people behind the wheel who are checking their devices instead of watching the road. In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. The technology would reduce the rate of car accidents as a result from human error. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 32,675 people died in car crashes in 2014. Driver error is believed to be the main reason behind over 90 percent of all crashes with drunk driving, distracted drivers, failure to remain in one lane and falling to yield the right of way the main causes. Because the majority of these accidents are caused by human error, self-driving cars could potentially reduce the rate of automobile-related deaths—and save the U.S. over $400 billion (2 percent of the U.S. GDP) in total annual costs of accidents.

Along with possibly reducing the rate of motor vehicle accidents caused by human error, autonomous vehicles could also reduce the rate of traffic and congestion on the roads since the robot cars will be able to travel at a much higher speed and closer to other cars without having concerns about hitting each other. It will also end up increasing fuel savings across the board because you have computers determining when to stop and when to go, and they’re optimizing all of those components.


Google’s self-driving car program is testing cars that do not rely on driver-assist progression but, rather, immediately jump to fully autonomous; Google has stated publicly that “taking the driver out of the loop” is the safest path. And in the long term, it is still unclear whether Google intends to choose between supporting shared autonomous mobility, personal ownership, or both. When Google first started experimenting with self-driving technology, it modified existing cars, like a Toyota, Audi and Lexus, by adding multiple cameras and sensors and an onboard computer. Now Google has moved on to making its own car from scratch. The car’s dome-like shape is optimal for giving sensors the widest field of view.

The state of Nevada passed a law on June 29, 2011, permitting the operation of autonomous cars in Nevada, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for an autonomous car in May 2012, to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology. In April 2012, Florida became the second state to allow the testing of autonomous cars on public roads, and California became the third. In December 2013, Michigan became the fourth state to allow testing of driverless cars on public roads. In July 2014, the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho adopted a robotics ordinance that includes provisions to allow for self-driving cars.

Google’s self-driving car already makes traffic decisions using mapping software and lasers that sense the road. Google’s driverless car comes equipped with eight different types of sensor.The most noticeable is the rotating roof-top Lidar – a camera that uses an array of 32 or 64 lasers to measure the distance to objects to build up a 3D map at a range of 200m, letting the car “see” hazards. The car also sports another set of “eyes”, a standard camera that points through the windscreen. This also looks for nearby hazards – such as pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists – and reads road signs and detects traffic lights.

The car has altimeters, gyroscopes and a tachometer (a rev-counter) to give even finer measurements on the car’s position, all of which combine to give it the highly accurate data needed to operate safely. The data that Google’s software receives is used to accurately identify other road users, their behaviour patterns, and what commonly used highway signals mean. On Nov. 24, Google secured a patent for a system that will enable self-driving cars to inform pedestrians of their intentions and signal when it’s safe to cross in front of the vehicle. According to the patent application, Google plans to make its cars more communicative with light-up signs, audio cues, mechanical hands, and, eerily, “robotic eyes on the vehicle that allow the pedestrian to recognize that the vehicle ‘sees’ the pedestrian.

Currently, there is no federal framework for implementing self-driving cars to the public. States are responsible for making their own regulations for testing and commercial purposes. Google does operate about 70 self-driving cars on public roads in California for testing purposes. Google’s driverless cars have already driven more than 1 million miles in autonomous mode, and the company is running pilot and testing programs with small fleets of fully autonomous vehicles in Mountain View, CA.
U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its most comprehensive policy yet on autonomous vehicles on September 2016. The policy asks automakers to submit a 15-point safety assessment where automakers must explain how the cars are made and what safeguards are in place, among other things.

Last year, ride-hailing company Uber partnered with both Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Arizona to open an Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh and test driverless cars and optics for mapping technologies. Ridesharing services have economic incentives to accelerate the adoption of autonomous vehicles, since it could reduce one of the biggest operational costs in this system: the driver. Uber envisions autonomous cars that could someday replace its tens of thousands of contract drivers.

Automakers are experimenting and inventing, and have passionate voices within their ranks describing much-altered futures. Most have set up offices in Silicon Valley to gain greater proximity to technology development and early-stage funding. Tesla will be prepared to offer fully automated vehicles in three years. Among the noteworthy examples of forward-thinking initiatives are Ford’s 25 mobility projects, BMW iVentures, Daimler’s Intelligent Driving, and Cadillac’s Super Cruise.

With so many automakers considering building a self-driving car, it is likely that Google will choose to partner with a major auto firm and develop software rather than build an entire car for everyday consumers itself. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is working to develop regulations that ensure the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on public roadways. The DMV was supposed to have rules in place by January 1, 2015, but almost a year later there are still no rules and Google is growing impatient.