If you’ve been wondering what it’s actually like to sit behind the (missing) wheel of Google’s driverless cars, be they the little bubble cars with smiling faces on the front, or the modified versions of third party vehicles, then today’s you’re lucky day, as the first reports from journalists have begun to trickle in. The consensus is generally quite good, but there are some hangups.
For starters, the test drive is quite different from your average one. While many of the cars test driven by journalists are top end spec, high powered machines, designed to impress through performance as much as anything else, Google’s autonomous cars are limited to 25 miles per hour and according to most, they’re impressively smooth. Corners don’t lead to leaning, acceleration is gradual and it stops in time without jolting the passenger around. As CBC puts it, it was entirely unremarkable, which is amazing considering it was all controlled by Google’s AI.
To provide the eyes and ears for such a machine, Google has a front mounted radar sensor for collision avoidance, as well as a large revolving sensor on the roof which uses lasers, cameras and a number of other sensors to provide even more detailed coverage of the area in-front, around and behind the car. This allows it to predict certain movements, prevent crashes and hopefully save lives.
This sentiment was at the fore during the test, with Google engineer and Russian born, Dmitri Dolgov saying: “Thousands and thousands of people are killed in car accidents every year. This could change that.”
The car in the CBC test was a modified Lexus RX 450h, which did feature pedals and a Google engineer just in-case something went wrong. However, it’s Google’s bubble car prototype that has got people talking the most, since it dispenses with steering wheels, pedals, drivers and in-fact any sort of input device other than a “Go” button and a touchscreen, which lets you put in your destination.
Dolgov didn’t say anything in relation to release dates, potential pricing for the cars or how the technology is progressing, but simply said he would continue working on perfecting it and at some point the business model would fall into place. To prove his confidence in the tech, Dolgov recently was driven by one of the autonomous cars over 450 miles on his family holiday and back, without issues.
Of course though, Autonomous vehicles are going to mean more than just a jump in technology. There’s real legal ramifications to their use and there’s plenty of moral implications too. We’ll need to sort them all out before true autonomy can become a reality on the roads, but it’s a future we’re rapidly heading towards.
We’d like to hear what you guys think about driverless car technology. Is it something you’d be happy to adopt, or do you think it will kill off the joy of driving, or make it so expensive to have a “manual” vehicle due to insurance, that people are simply forced off of the road?
Let us know in the comments below.