Google's ambition for the self driving car has existed for many years, but it was in 2007 when Larry Page persuaded artificial intelligence researcher, Sebastian Thrun, to leave Stanford and join Google to work on the project. We've only seen the self-driving car on the roads since early 2014 and the technology is quickly being developed and improved. Google has recently provided the world with a project update on the self driving cars and afterwards the press were able to ask Google's Chairman, Sergey Brin, what is so good about the technology and what he likes about it. The answer is perhaps no surprise: the technology is situationally more aware than drivers, does not tire nor be distracted by a multitude of things, and for certain kinds of driving should provide for a safer ride. Sergey explains: "I've gained appreciation for what 360-degree awareness and always paying attention can do, whether it's being able to, you know, swerve when somebody does something sudden, you can shift to an adjacent lane because the car already knows that lane is available, and because an ordinary car would have to slam on the brakes." At some point in the future, as the roads contain more and more autonomous vehicles, it is possible to imagine a highway where there are fewer and fewer unexpected situations.
Google's current version of the technology removes the steering wheel and pedals, meaning that the vehicles are truly autonomous: there is no driver override in place, which remains in the realms of science fiction – for now. However, Sergey added: "I don't think we're going to see no human driver anytime soon, there will always be the pleasure of being able to hit the open road, but I think for a larger percentage of day to day driving it will be safer for occupants to have a self-driving car." He also hinted at some of the integration with other Google services behind the scenes with, "And it will improve the community – reducing congestion in areas where you probably don't have that open road driving." This is an important part of the self driving car as it is a small step to take a vehicle able to drive itself to one that may be situationally aware of a much wider area in the context of traffic congestion and similar. These vehicles would be able to reroute themselves to avoid busy roads or even those areas with poor air quality, in order to help city planners improve the environment. Sergey believes that at some point in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to have a car shared with the autonomous driver, which could be turned on or off depending on the circumstances. Your car might drive you home from your busy commute whereas you may elect to take control on the weekend. This currently isn't possible with the Google self-driving cars.
Self driving cars vehicles remain an interesting concept and will require additional research and development on the technology side of things. We will also see policymakers and lawmakers adapting or, hopefully, rewriting the laws in order to accommodate technology able to drive itself and passengers between locations. Google's project has been up and running for eight years with just eighteen months on the road. It's impossible to know when the technology will be affordable and available for ordinary people, but it seems we will still need to know how to drive ourselves as well as letting the automobile do the work.