By now, most of us have heard about Google's self-driving cars and formed an opinion about them. It seems that many are worried that even more privacy will be stripped away thanks to the self-driving cars and their built-in cameras and tracking sensors, as well as being kidnapped when the car is hacked! Another fear is what happens when the car breaks down, does it drive around like a headless chicken? On the other side of the coin, others believe that the rise of the self-driving car will lead to an almost utopian sort of world where accidents will be comparatively non-existent, where the roads will finally be safe for everyone thanks to the removal of human interaction from the act of driving. The following infographic should go some way to shed some light on the actual car and Google's hopes for it.
First, there's the actual physical car, it's kinda small, it's windscreen is made out of plastic with the front made out of foam to be more friendly to errant pedestrians. The car seats only two people, and there isn't a steering wheel, pedals or gear stick, which is part of what enables the car to be so compact. On the roof you can immediately see the 360 degree laser sensor that has a range of 600 feet, there's also a radar that gauges the speed of the car in front. All this is powered by a powerful processor that regulates the cars activities. As for top-speed, the current design can reach 25mph. It's not much is it, but for inner-city travel? Well it's more than enough, especially when you consider how fast you actually go at rush-hour. Google's theory is that because all the self-driving cars will be travelling at the same speed, with no one cutting in, taking risky short-cuts or just being reckless, the cars won't need to stop, unless required. All-in-all, Google reckons that although you will be travelling at a potentially lower speed than normal, you will actually get to where you are going quicker than if you were driving. It means an end to the hurry-up-and-wait type of driving that is synonymous with city driving. It should also be noted, the current cars are only meant for urban and suburban environments, you aren't going to see someone travelling in this car on Route 66 or any other highways, or at least, you shouldn't although you know someone will attempt to. We are human after all.
What about the all-important question of what happens when something goes wrong? Well, the word is redundancy. Google's self-driving car has not one, but two sets of mechanical controls as back-up for the computer in the eventuality of a fault. Talking about safety, the car can detect other cars up to 600 feet away, which taken by itself doesn't sound like a vast distance, but when the other cars are travelling at 25mph max, well that gives the computer ample time to react and compute the correct speed and course. People may point out that the self-driving cars have already been involved in two incidents, but it's important to remember that these incidents actually occurred while the cars were being manually operated by humans. Which brings us back to human error again. While operating under the control of its on-board computers, the Google cars have managed to chalk up over 700,000 miles of incident free driving.
Google have been trying to perfect the self-driving car since 2008, and this year there are plans to build between 100-200 prototypes, with most, if not all of the testing to be performed in California, the only state to have allowed road-testing. Google believes the self-driving car will be road-worthy by 2015, reaching consumers by 2020. Currently, the car costs over $250,000 to produce, although as with most things, the cost should come down as the production is scaled up and optimized. Opinions will always be divided on this matter (much like Google Glass), and although personally, I love driving, and would be loathed to voluntarily give it up, I know that for others, driving is a barely tolerated chore. Regardless of whether you like driving or not though, for anyone that drives in rush-hour traffic and has experienced grid-lock first-hand, the self-driving car must seem amazing. What are your thoughts on the matter? Is Google's self-driving car one step too far? Or an idea whose time has finally come? Ending on a whimsical note, will the advent of driverless cars mean that we will be seeing flying cars in the relative near future? Let us know in the comments or at our Google Plus page.