Internet-giant Google has been secretly working to build a car that drives itself, according to a piece published by The New York Times last weekend. Google engineers believe that having cars driven by robots rather than humans would make roads safer. The engineers say that the robot cars react faster than humans and have constant 360-degree perception. The robot cars would also not get sleepy, be distracted by texting or eating or drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The cars work by using a combination of sensing equipment and GPS navigation. Executives and engineers at Google believe the robot cars will cut down on the number of car accidents and highway deaths. In 2008, 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States.
The engineer at the head of the project, Sebastian Thrun, is a visionary passionate about how the super high-tech cars could change the way transportation and driving works in our country. The most optimistic estimates for when the cars would be available are not for another eight years at least, but Thrun told the Times that he was encouraged by how quickly the technology was advancing.
The engineers say that a robot car has already successfully driven itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, the tourist attraction that touts itself as one of the world's most crooked streets. Of course, much work has yet to be done on the cars to make sure the computers in the cars would not crash or be infected with a virus.
Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic (The New York Times)