Take a Ride Inside Google’s Robot Car – Great New Video

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Google Car - Behind the Wheel

Guess who was giving people free rides in their robot car? I'll give you a clue: rhymes with "holy crap this is awesome...oogle."

Dammit, I really need to attend TED. The annual Technology Entertainment Design conference always has tons of great presenters, but this year they also had something better: Google's autonomous car. On a specially designed outdoor course in Long Beach, Google allowed press to not only film the robot vehicle, they were also handing out rides inside the car itself. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land grabbed two sweet videos, providing an external and internal view of how the autonomous vehicle can perform on a closed track. Check them both out below. Despite the fact that I'm eating my heart out from jealousy while watching Sullivan's excursion, I'm still pretty skeptical that Google will be able to market their car anytime soon. These videos demonstrate the awesome engineering of the project, but I still haven't seen anything that lets me believe that the social and legal barriers opposing robot automobiles are falling. More's the pity.

Here's the interior view. Man, what I would give to get a chance to be in that front seat. Hands free is the only way I want to drive!

The exterior view gives a better idea of the car's speed. Not bad for a Prius! Those turns give a great squeal. Awesome.

Reportedly, Google's robotic fleet has been tested using very conservative driving schemes when taken on public roads. As I mentioned when this project was first unveiled back in the fall, Google's traveled 140,000 miles in their autonomous vehicles, but that's been really tame driving with a lot of supervision. The test track on TED is something else. With the ability to preprogram the driving course in very controlled conditions, Google is able to let its robot car tear up the track as best as it can. Pretty impressive, and much closer to performances we've seen from other robotic car programs, such as the one from Volkswagen and Stanford.

This performance just shows that Google's team of world-class experts is excelling at the engineering side of things. Sebastian Thrun, the project's leader, was on hand at TED giving some more details about Google's motivations and successes- we'll definitely throw that presentation up once it goes public.

Yet I would be happier if Google also had an elite team of psychologists, publicists, and lawyers working in parallel with their autonomous car project. (Maybe they do? I'd love to hear about it if anyone has inside information on this.) As I've stated ad nauseum, creating robotic vehicles won't matter much if you can't convince people (and their governments) to accept putting human lives in the 'hands' of these bots. Some nation is going to lead the way with this, either by steam-rolling opposition or convincing the public through good PR. That nation is going to reap the benefits of automated driving (lower casualties, higher fuel efficiencies, great convenience) and is likely to set the standards the rest of the globe will adopt as they come on board with the idea. I have little doubt that Silicon Valley will lead the way in engineering. For my sake (yes, I'm petty like that) I hope that Google and the US leap the social/legal hurdle first as well. I'd love to ride on an automated highway as soon as possible.

In the meantime...Google, if you ever want me to 'test drive' one of your cars, you just tell me where and when. I promise to shut up about my social/legal hurdle theory for the entirety of the ride. I make no such claims about throwing my hands in the air and screaming "wheeeeeee" however. There are limits to my will power.

[screen capture and video credits: SearchEngineLand/Danny Sullivan]
[source: SearchEngineLand, Google Blog]

Discussion — 15 Responses

  • Anonymous March 6, 2011 on 6:38 pm

    “I still haven’t seen anything that lets me believe that the social and legal barriers opposing robot automobiles are falling. More’s the pity.”

    As long as the human being is legally designated as the ‘operator’ of the vehicle in question, we can have defacto driverless cars.

    On the books, the person will still be the driver, and have legal responsibility it case of an accident, but in reality, do no actual driving. It will be kind of like we see in commercial jets, where the pilot doesn’t actually do all that much really, but they still stick him in the cockpit to keep people from having the heebee jeebees over fully robotic aircraft.

    I am not at all worried about legal roadblocks to driverless cars. We just have to use legal jujutsu.

    As long as the car has a steering wheel and as long as someone has to sit behind it and call themselves the operator with all the legal responsibilities and insurance, we can get to driverless gradually. I have full faith in that.

    Insurance companies will love it because they will see lower costs and be able to charge people the same insurance premiums. When their underwriters start seeing the great safety data, the insurance lobby will go to bat for driverless in a big way.

    • Orr_shomroni March 6, 2011 on 7:41 pm

      So, unlike the stupid American who thought cruise control meant auto-pilot, this car will actually have an auto-pilot mode, but for legal matters will still be officially considered to be driven by a human being.
      I cannot imagine why people won’t want that. Of course, people will be scared from putting their lives completely in computer hands (or steering wheel, in this case), but still, it’s all a question of whether you enjoy driving, or you prefer being chauffeured 😛
      There is one way to really test the reaction time of the car: put it under extreme tests: have a person run in the middle of the road unexpectedly, and see how fast the car breaks, or have another car crossing the automated car, and see what the response would be. If the system passes those 2 tests of extreme risks and quick reaction with success, I am willing to trust my life in its steering.

    • Kristof March 7, 2011 on 8:48 pm

      I’m not so certain insurance companies will support fully automated cars. What happens when accidents fall to insignificant levels and insurance is no longer beneficial? I see this tech as the end of auto insurance on a individual level. Yeah no more car insurance commercials!
      I also believe owning your own personal vehicle will pass into history due the automated car. If a car service cost less than maintaining, insuring, and fueling my own car I would jump at the chance to rid myself of that burden.

      • Anonymous Kristof March 7, 2011 on 10:39 pm

        I don’t think they will be designated as fully automated under the law. The legal fiction of a human driver in control will be maintained as long as someone is behind a steering wheel. As for insurance rates, accidents and deaths are dropping all the time, yet insurance rates are not dropping with them. I don’t see insurance going away. They have a powerful lobby and existing legislation behind them.

        • Kristof March 7, 2011 on 11:50 pm

          I have no doubt that first generations of automated cars will offer a switch to toggle between manual and automatic modes. But as these automated system progress and trust increases the fully automatic car will come to dominate, its this point that insurance companies business model becomes obsolete and their powerful lobby will work against automation law. Its bad for the insurance business if no one is crashing, why have insurance if the possiblilty of a wreck becomes lotteryish (I just made up lotteryish, its my word).

      • Anverx Kristof March 7, 2011 on 11:23 pm

        The insurance companies will support any activity that pays (and legal or sort of legal) without a doubt. It is an open market, if one company won’t support it the next one will. At first they’ll charge you double for an automated vehicle that is twice as safe, and then the prices will even out.

        On the other hand the accidents are not going away. There will be people driving the old fashioned way for a long time still. I for one will probably drive myself about 1/3 of the time just be cause i enjoy it. As to automated cars – no software is perfect.

        Personal cars aren’t going anywhere either. It is in human nature to own things (even if it costs more ), in fact, right now there are leasing schemes in abundance, yet people still buy cars to own.

        Hopefully acceptance of automated cars comes before the singularity, which will make this whole thread of thought utterly irrelevant 😉

      • Anonymous Kristof March 8, 2011 on 9:57 pm

        For accidents to fall to such insignificant levels that insurance is no longer beneficial would be quite impressive, even with robotic cars.

        If the possible harm is very high but the risk is low, this means only that premiums will be very cheap. Imagine that one in a million gets in an accident in a year and the damage is one million bucks. I will break even if I charge you each a buck a year. If I charge you two bucks a year, I make a million bucks. Now, would each of that million desire to pay a buck a year? Unless they were dumb, the answer is yes, because you have, statistically lost no money. If I charged you two bucks a year, would you pay it? You probably should, because now you need keep less money on hand for emergencies. You can invest your money, instead of holding it in more liquid but less profitable forms. Of course, the model is more complicated, but you get the idea.

  • Webabolicson March 6, 2011 on 6:52 pm

    Very Exciting!

  • Joey1058 March 6, 2011 on 7:35 pm

    I just had this vision of a fully grown adult crumbling into a 10 year old. 🙂

  • Anverx March 7, 2011 on 12:19 pm

    About “social/legal hurdle”, this is not my idea, i think it was someone on /. but it sounds about right.
    As soon as insurance companies will be ready to insure self driving cars the problem will be solved, because they carry most of the responsibility for accidents (already). And the insurance companies will be ready as soon as they see that self driving cars are safer then human drivers. And from the looks of it, it could be happening pretty soon (in relative terms .)

  • Unitron6991 March 8, 2011 on 4:40 pm

    Does it come with an red light that swooshes back and forth? Can you summon it from your watch?

    • Kristof Unitron6991 March 8, 2011 on 5:58 pm

      The light would be easy enough to install and yes eventually you will be to call it to you, Their will be an app for that!

  • Meg March 16, 2011 on 11:27 am

    Part of the experience of driving, rather than being a passenger, though, is actually manhandling the controls to the vehicle, and personally making decisions in realtime as you travel over terrain. Driving is different from being driven, and most people who drive, prefer to be the driver, and don’t feel as comfortable being driven by someone else, perhaps because they prefer an active role, and being the locus of control, rather than a passive role.

    • Anverx Meg March 16, 2011 on 11:47 am

      That is quite right. But there are (at least) two parts to driving, driving as recreation (being in control and all that) and driving as getting from place to place. Many people manage to combine these. There are many situations where one would be willing to give up the wheel, consider getting an extra hour of sleep, or reading email/singularityhub/chatting/playing wow/working(omg!) on the way, what about being stuck in a traffic jam? i think, most people would rather read a book instead.