Google’s Robotic Hybrid Car Fleet – Yes, You Read That Right

Google has a small team of engineers working on the development of fully robotic, autonomous vehicles and although this might sound like pie-in-the-sky future tech, but they have already clocked 140,000 miles in the cars on California’s public roads. The program is led by Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google’s “Street View” mapping service.

Those of you who remember Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s speech at the TechCrunch Disrupt event 2 weeks ago may recall him saying “It’s a bug that cars were invented before computers, your car should drive itself. It just makes sense.”. At the time it seemed that he was making little sense himself, however now that we know he is orchestrating what is possibly the largest single attempt at creating self-driving cars in history, it all fits together nicely.

Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research,” -Official Google Blog-

Exactly why Google is spending the time and money to develop something so far from its core products, search and advertising, is a bit of a curiosity, there is no way this technology will turn a profit in the near future and apart from leasing patents to automakers it’s hard to see how it will monetize the tech it’s creating. The official statement from Google regarding this is;

“Larry and Sergey founded Google because they wanted to help solve really big problems using technology. And one of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”

Google chose to use 6 Toyota Prius model hybrids for the research and as you can see below, they look similar to the Google Street View cars that have been touring the world creating the largest database of street images in history. Interestingly, there have been no accidents with the automated cars apart from one incident when a car rear-ended a Google car when it was stopped at a traffic light.

Google estimates that this technology is at least 8 years away from primetime use, I don’t know about you but I like the idea of having a car that could drive me how should I decide to have that extra glass of Shiraz at dinner.

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Information via The Official Google Blog and The New York Times

Images via The New York Times

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