Page 1

WIRED 49 / 50

W WIRED 47 49 / 48 50

We’ve all had those days: rushing around, trying to get errands done. You finally got the dry cleaning, and now you’ve got to get to the post office before it closes. So you go, pedal to the metal, thinking about what you need to get at the grocery store for dinner, when it hits you—or, you hit it. While your mind was some place else, the car in front of you stopped, and you rear-ended it. What could have prevented the accident? The obvious answer is that you could have—by paying attention. But that answer isn’t so simple. Driver error is the most common cause of traffic accidents, and with cell phones, in-car entertainment systems, more traffic and more complicated road systems, it isn’t likely to go away. But if drivers aren’t going to concentrate on the road, who is? If technology continues on its current course, your car will do the concentrating for you. Automakers are developing complex systems that allow cars to drive themselves. They’re also furthering existing technologies such as self-parking and pre-safe cruise control. Driverless cars must be able to plan a route and navigate through traffic safely—that is, without bumping into other vehicles or obstacles. In order to accomplish this, they must be equipped with computer programs, radar sensors and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). The public already has access to some of the systems used by driverless cars. An example is the Automatic Cruise Control, which enforces distance between a car and the one driving in front of it. However, driverless cars have the


However, Google: Is researching technology that doesn’t just rely on GPS but also sensors that detect and compute surrounding obstacles.

WIRED 49 / 50

Google’s not alone: An Audi TTS drove the entire 12.42 miles and 156 precarious turns of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Google has lobbied for driverless car laws in Nevada, California, and Florida, and is contnuing to do so for every state.

Google’s car has navigated San Francisco’s Lombard Street, famous for having a steep, one-block section that consists of eight tight hairpin turns.

WIRED 51 / 52

N stepping on the brake, similar to added advantage of technologies that cruise control systems, or turning the public doesn’t have access to yet. the wheel. These technologies enable them to The Google project team has sense other cars, give or take the right equipped a test fleet of at least eight of way on the correct occasion, or vehicles, consisting of six Toyota Prius, arrive at an intersection and stop. an Audi TT, and a Lexus RX450h, each The truly driverless system accompanied in the driver’s seat by one of combines information gathered from a dozen drivers with unblemished driving Google Street View with software that records and in the passenger seat by combines input from video cameras inside one of Google’s engineers. The car has the car, a LIDAR sensor on top of the traversed San Francisco’s Lombard Street, vehicle, radar sensors on the front of the famed for its steep hairpin turns and vehicle and a position sensor attached through city traffic. The vehicles have to one of the rear wheels that helps driven over the Golden Gate Bridge and locate the car’s position on the map. on the Pacific Coast Highway, and have In 2009, Google obtained circled Lake Tahoe. The system drives at 3,500 miles of Street View images from the speed limit it has stored on its maps driverless cars with minor human and maintains its distance from other intervention. As of 2010, Google has vehicles using its system of sensors. tested several vehicles equipped with the On September 25, 2012, system, driving 1,000 without any human California Governor Jerry Brown intervention, in addition to 140,000 mi signed into effect SB1298, effectively with occasional human intervention. paving the way for driverless cars Google developed its in California. For a state that autonomous cars in 2010. Nevada passed relies more heavily a law in June 2011 concerning the on cars than operation of driverless cars in Nevada, any which went into effect on March 1, 2012. A Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology was licensed by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in May 2012. This was the first license issue in the United States for a self-driven car. License plates issued in Nevada for autonomous cars will have a red background and feature an infinity symbol on the left side because, according to the DMV Director, “...using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future.” Nevada’s regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests. Google’s autonomous system permits a human driver to take control by

Google’s car is actually capiably of driving through a drive thru without any human driving interaction.

Steve Mahan, who is 95 percent blind, got to test out one of Google’s Toyota Prius equipted with autonomous driving technology.

WIRED 53 / 54

P other, this is hugely significant when it comes to traffic and road congestion. California is actually the third state to authorize them, behind Nevada and Florida. “Today we’re looking at science-fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality,” said the governor. And tomorrow isn’t that far off. According to Google’s Sergey Brin, “You can count on one hand the number of years until ordinary people can experience this.” More and more Google employees will be beta-testing it starting this year, and when you hear the potential advantages, you’ll start to wish you worked there. Brin envisions the driverless cars serving people who couldn’t drive under normal circumstances. “There are many, many people who are undeserved by our transportation today,” he said. “The blind... some people are too young, some people are too old, sometimes we’re too intoxicated.” But beyond opening the doors to people who might otherwise be cut off from transportation, it’s something the masses may quickly get spoiled by. Another area where Brin hopes the driverless-car will improve

is traffic: “Why does the congestion happen to begin with? The fact is that on a normally operating highway, cars take up a very small fraction of the space. Mostly it’s just air between you and the car in front of you, to the sides of you, and so forth. Selfdriving cars can actually ‘chain together’ and use the highways more efficiently, potentially eradicating congestion.” It’s hard not to have a visceral, gut-clinching reaction when you picture a string of cars speeding down the highway like cyclists drafting each other in a race. But then driverless cars aren’t designed to speed, and according to Brin, “Driverless cars don’t run red lights.” That’s a bold statement. Google’s engineering team is busy trying to account for every anomaly. The cars could make us more productive, allowing us to get some work done while we’re stuck in traffic. They could also potentially solve a lot of our parking problems. A driverless car could theoretically drop you off and then go find a efficient place to park itself. Or, if you didn’t need to have to own car, it could drop you off, then be used by someone else, eliminating the need for parking all together.


WIRED 55 / 56

LIDAR A rotating sensor on the roof scans the area in a radius of 60 metres for creation of a dynamic, three-demensional map of the environment.

Video Camera Mounted near the rear-view mirror, the camera detects traffic lights and moving objects

A sensor mounted on the left rear wheel measures lateral movemnets and determines the car’s position on the map.

Distance Sensors Four radars, three in the front bumber and one in the rear bumber, measure distances to various obstacles and allow the system to reduce the speed of the car.

The company purportedly has no plans to commercially sell one of its vehicles. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told Reuters in July “self-driving cars should in our lifetime become the predominant way.” Google says it still needs to do “millions of miles” of testing before it is ready to offer a self driving car system for sale. The driverless test cars have about $150,000 in equipment including the $70,000 LIDAR system at this time, not exactly the price point that will make it widespread. The question for most would be to buy a house or a car?


By Brin’s admission, the list of technical details yet to be solved make for a very long list, but Google’s dwriverless cars have already traveled over 300,000 of miles without incident. With the passage of SB1298, the door is now open to increasing the amount of road-testing by a significant margin, which will make these cars available to everyone much sooner. Self-driving cars are not unique to Google. All the major auto manufacturers have been researching similar technology for years. Bob Lutz, a former vice president at General Motors (GM), says driverless cars could be ubiquitous in 20 years. Just as the automobile replaced the horsedrawn carriage, computers will replace human drivers, which Lutz says would be a good thing. “Electronic driverless systems don’t get drunk, don’t smoke pot, they don’t go to sleep,” he says in an interview with The Daily Ticker. “We’ll see a huge reduction in accidents.” According to the Census Bureau, there were 10.8 million motor vehicle accidents in 2009, the latest research available. Nearly 35,000 people die every As year in car accidents and 90% of accidents with are caused by human error. Driverless most new cars will likely reduce the number of technologies, fender-benders and serious collisions, but automotive computers are by no means infallible. For the engineers along time being, autonomous cars will require at with consumers least one human passenger. The California want to make law stipulates that these “robotic chauffeurs” absolutely certain that cannot handle the state’s roadways without they’re safe and the cars a registered driver in the passenger seat. perform as expected before launching into mass production. Are drivers enthusiastic or outraged at the driverless concept? According to a March J.D. Power and Associates survey, 37% of U.S. consumers expressed interest in the autonomous driving technology. Consulting firm Accenture polled U.S. and British consumers last year about driverless cars. Nearly half said they would be “comfortable” in a self-driving car.

WIRED 57/ 58 Drunk driving costs the United States $132 billion a year and in that every adult is paying $500 through taxes.

At least 1.6 million crashes each year involve drivers using phones and texting.

“It really has the power to change people’s lives,” -Brin

WIRED 59 / 60

P Jose Calabro: “Sounds horrible. I suspect they will abide by the speed limit no matter what. What will all the traffic cops do then? Enforce real laws and catch real criminals for a change? Unheard of.” Maria Miller: “I don’t plan to purchase a new car until these features are widely available. With that said my concern is that this is yet another technology that will contribute to unemployment. Let’s move forward taking this technology to market. What to do with all the laid off cab and delivery drivers, that’s the real challenge.” Janet Price: “I envision their availability like that of zip cars, so that most people will not own a car. You’d simply call for one on your phone, specify the size, and in 5-10 minutes one will be at your door, and it will be clean and everything will work. If you need to get to work, it will be a tiny car—larger if you’re a larger person. If you need to haul something, it might be a truck-sized vehicle.”

Type “Driverless Cars” into Google Search for the latest news.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you