A self-driving car – remarkable. This is a discussion that only a few years ago was only regarded as possible in a sci-fi book or in a movie with Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)…a car that could drive itself was always a thing of the future, but because of Google's efforts, the future appears to be NOW. True, you can go to any car dealership today and purchase a car that will park itself, warn you of vehicles on your blind spot should you try and pass, assistance in backing up your vehicle to alert you of any obstacles, and even sensors that will brake your car should they sense danger – but nothing that comes close to a self-driving car. The reason being this is no easy task to accomplish and not many companies, other than Google, have the resources or determination to accomplish this daring task.
The way Google is able to accomplish this feat, in Mountain View, CA, is that every inch of mapping is preprogrammed into the car's computers – from the height of the red lights at each intersection to the height of the curbs – any information they can give the car ahead of time, makes its job that much easier.
Robert Chapman is in charge on Google's self-driving car's mapping team and he said:
"Rather than having to figure out what the world looks like and what it means from scratch every time we turn on the software, we tell it what the world is expected to look like when it is empty, and then the job of the software is to figure out how the world is different from that expectation. This makes the problem a lot simpler."
Google plucked a Carnegie Mellon University professor – Chris Urmson – to head the project, and he does so with confidence and enthusiasm. When questioned about the amount of work involved in this mapping and when reminded about the 4 million miles of U.S. roads, Urmson said:
"It's one of those things that Google, as a company, has some experience with our Google Maps product and Street View. We've gone around and we've collected this data so you can have this wonderful experience of visiting places remotely. And it's a very similar kind of capability to the one we use here. It is work, but it is not intimidating work."
This kind of attitude reflects Google's philosophy that no job is too big or intimidating to conquer – and it is this attitude that has many of the major car companies worried about their future. However, a self-driving car could cut down on the number of accidents, allow the driver to safely text or take phone calls while "driving" their vehicle…allowing the "driver" to access one of Google's many services. It is going to take a lot of work before we see a driverless car running around a street near you, but that day is coming. With over 700,000 miles logged in already, as more and more maps are loaded from around the nation, we should see that mileage dramatically increase.
Please let us know on our Google+ Page if you are excited about Google's "driverless" car…as always, we would love to hear from you. The screen shot below is what the map programming looks like to the computer.