Science fiction movies have long since envisioned a world with flying cars and other technical wonders, but Google is actually experimenting with a car that drives itself. As crazy of an idea as this might seem, the mind behind GPS itself, Bradford Parkinson, is actually on board with the idea. He predicts a future where people “ride” their cars to their destination, which will give them the time and freedom to check their texts, emails, facebook, and perform other various tasks without putting themselves and others at risk while on the road. Safety and convenience is obviously the focus here, but how is such a seemingly impossible concept brought to reality?

The Technology

A Velodyne 64-beam laser is used to scan and generate a 3D map of the surrounding environment, which is then combined with digital maps of the world to create data models that allow the car to drive safely and avoid impending obstacles while also following traffic laws. The car comes equipped with integral sensors for dealing with other cars on the road, such as radars mounted on the front and rear bumpers so the car can sense other vehicles within its proximity and keep a safe distance while traveling at fast speeds. Next to the rearview mirror is a camera that detects traffic lights so the car can stop and go accordingly, and an inertial measurement unit with wheel encoding and GPS keeps track of the vehicles location and movement.


Google founder Sergey Brin has said that driverless cars will be readily available to the general public as early as 2017. Google itself does not have any plans to manufacture cars, but they want to create a business model that will provide the technology and data to the automobile industry for consumer use. There are many legal hurdles that will accompany the widespread distribution of these vehicles, and new laws will possibly have to be created as well. Google is already lobbying for laws that will allow for driverless cars to legally drive on public roads, as well as another bill that will allow passengers in the driverless car to send text messages from their smartphone while behind the driver wheel.

Test Run

Google states that around a dozen driverless cars are actually on the road now and performing tests in live traffic. These beta vehicles have travelled more than 500,000 miles on highways across America and, during these initial tests, there has only been one accident where the blame can be placed solely on the car.

Still don’t believe in the possibility of a self-driving car? Check out this video that shows a test vehicle driving a variety of people to different locations.

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