The Future of Driving: Google’s Self-Driving Car Comes Closer to Becoming a Reality

by Emmanuel Decaudin

(Photo: Steve Jurvetson)

Have you ever wanted to step into your car, punch in your destination, and fall asleep while your car takes you there? Google intends to make that dream a reality, through its aptly named “Google Self-Driving Car Project.”

After Google’s corporate reorganization, creating the holding company ‘Alphabet,’ the project was moved under the subsidiary organization ‘X’. X’s mission is “to invent and launch ‘moonshot’ technologies that we hope could someday make the world a radically better place,” according to solveforx.com.

According to Astro Teller, “Captain of Moonshots” and Obi Felten, Director of X Foundry, the self-driving car project is “close to graduating.” Projects “graduate,” or move on, from X when Google feels that the project can stand on its own, and either function as its own company or a new subsidiary of Alphabet, or be sold to another research company to be further developed into a functioning, market-ready product.

Examples of projects that have graduated from X in the past include Glass, a head-mounted computer and display, and Google Watch, a wrist-based smartphone companion now better known as Android Wear.

As of March 31, 2015, Google’s self driving cars have driven a total of 1,498,214 miles autonomously, or without a human driver controlling the vehicle. (Google Self-Driving Car Project, Monthly Report March 2016) In order to reach this record amount of robotic mileage, Google has had to create highly intricate maps of the area it plans to drive in.

This includes detail about the heights of curbs, the widths of intersections, and the placement of stop signs and traffic lights. Engineers gather this tremendous of amount of detail by driving around and creating a “three-dimensional portrait” of the world using highly intricate lasers.

Analysts then turn that data into information the cars can use to find their way, avoid obstacles, and overall drive more and more safely to make the idea of a computer in charge of your vehicle more palatable.

So if you ever find yourself in Mountain View, California, or Austin, Texas, keep a lookout for any peculiar looking SUVs. There are 21 Lexus RX450h’s, as well as 33 prototype vehicles, traversing the streets with a ‘mind of their own.’

In 20 years, you may be behind the wheel, or should I say, behind the CPU, of one of these self-driving cars yourself.


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