Google sees success with self-driving cars

April 29, 2014 12:00 AM

One of the most buzzed-about topics in the automotive world in recent years has been autonomous cars. The idea that a vehicle could drive itself is one that is both exciting and somewhat scary to motorists. While the concept could offer inarguable convenience, safety has always been a top concern.

There are a number of measures that drivers can take to ensure safety on the road, such as keeping up with regular vehicle maintenance, avoiding distractions such as texting and buckling up the seatbelt at all times. By definition, motorists would be giving up a certain amount of control with autonomous cars, and while automated technology does have the potential to actually bolster the security of a vehicle, many are still a bit apprehensive about the idea.

Major strides
The technology giant Google is trying to prove skeptics wrong. The company has been focusing considerable effort on not only making the self-driving car a reality, but also offering optimal security with these automobiles. While TechHive reported that Google's autonomous cars already hit the highways in 2010, the source explained that the firm has since been attempting to make these vehicles fit for city streets. This is a notable development because city driving is far more challenging and hazardous than highway driving due to aspects like pedestrians, cyclists, construction and railroad crossings.

For all the pundits out there that think this feat is impossible, Google posted a blog and corresponding YouTube video with clips of a self-driving car successfully cruising its way through an urban landscape. Remarkably, TechHive noted that the autonomous vehicle was even able to recognize cyclists' hand signals and predict their next turns. In fact, the software was able to detect cyclists' acceleration to make a light, which then triggered the car to stop and wait for the bicycle to pass before driving forward any further. This feature also worked in terms of detecting pedestrians.

That's not all the self-driving car is capable of. TechHive revealed that Google's high-tech car was even capable of sensing orange pylons on the road that indicate construction and automatically changing lanes as needed. So how did the car do in dealing with railroad crossings? The news outlet explained that the vehicle didn't move until any cars in front of it were already across the track.

Room for improvement
Despite all of these important milestones, Fox News noted that there is still some work to do. David Alexander, a senior analyst with Navigant Research, told the source that he's not certain these vehicles are realistic, explaining that while Google's technology is impressive, there may not be a "quick pathway to the market." In fact, he doesn't expect self-driving cars to be available to the public until 2025.

However, the project's director, Chris Urmson, wrote in a recent blog post that the company is increasingly optimistic about developing an autonomous vehicle, noting that the test cars have been able to overcome new obstacles in the city setting that, just one or two years ago, were too complex. He's even confident that this new software is better at detecting things like buses, pedestrians and stop signs than people.

"A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can't - and it never gets tired or distracted," he wrote. As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer."

That doesn't mean this car is ready for the real world. Urmson admitted that engineers still have to resolve a few issues, and will need to ensure the vehicle can navigate more streets in Mountain View, where the company headquarters is located, before taking it to another area.

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