Over the past decade or so, Google has become a company that focuses on much more than just their Internet offerings. Just take a look at Android, and it quickly becomes clear that the company is interested in applying new ways of doing things to almost anything and everything. This exploration into all sorts of other things is partly where the decision to create their new parent company, Alphabet came from, to create smaller companies outside of Google to make sure the Internet giant can focus on what they’re good at. Regardless, one thing has dominated headlines and public interest for some time now; the self-driving car.
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It seems like these cutesy-looking self-driving cars aren’t going all that fast when they’re driving in the wild, with reports of them traveling no faster than 25 Mph. While driving fast is not all that easy and can be dangerous, 25 Mph is certainly a low speed to be driving at, especially in California. So, why are these self-driving cars taking it so easy? Well, it turns out that Google has purposely limited them to such slow speeds in order to make them better learning tools. In a report on their self-driving cars from November, Google writes about the incident involving a self-driving car doing 24 Mph in a 35 Mph zone. The report writes that “slower speeds were easier for our development process. A simpler vehicle enabled us to focus on the things we really wanted to study, like the placement of our sensors and the performance of our self-driving software.”
It’s not just that the slower they drive, the more they can learn, but also that a slower vehicle is a more approachable one, “slow speeds are generally safer (the kinetic energy of a vehicle moving at 35mph is twice that of one moving at 25mph) and help the vehicles feel at home on neighbourhood streets”. The report goes on to say that Google mostly test these vehicles in neighbourhood streets of Mountain View which themselves have a speed limit of 25 Mph, so their self-driving cars are perfect for that sort of environment. The design of the self-driving car itself is designed to be friendly and approachable, so it’s no surprise they are looking to offer a car that plays it safe and doesn’t endanger anyone.