Google may manufacture a driverless car

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Sebastian Thrun

Engineer Sebastian Thrun. Image: null0/Flickr/CC BY

Many researcher teams around the world are working at perfecting a driverless car. Cars that drive themselves could have many advantages. Google’s Lab X — one of the places the technology is being explored — may be planning to manufacture just such a vehicle as early as next year.

Google’s Lab X

Although engineer Sebastian Thrun was not the first to work at developing a robotic car, it is he who has spearheaded the project at Google’s Lab X. Thrun says he has devoted his life to developing the technology after a close friend was killed in an automobile accident.

Lab X is a clandestine facility that works at developing out-of-the-box ideas. The facility is so hush-hush that some Google employees are not even aware of its existence. Although most of the projects being developed there are still in the conceptual stage, two unnamed sources told the New York Times last month that one of the projects could see the manufacturing stage as early as next year. And another unnamed source told the same news agency that Google may plan to manufacture the no-driver car in the United States.

Unleashed on California roads

The experimental car was demonstrated at the TED technology conference in Long Beach, Calif., last year. Since that time, it has been unleashed on the California roads — in the city and on the highway — for testing. The video below shows some of that testing. Project leader Thrun said that the vehicle behaved so flawlessly that many bystanders didn’t even notice it.

Not a new idea

GM explored the idea of a self-driving car at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York  with its vision of the future of transportation. But it was the development of satellite and computer technology that has made it a real possibility. The technology uses GPS to navigate in conjunction with lasers, cameras and radar to detect and avoid obstacles.

Solving global gridlock

Besides saving lives, the robotic car could also solve the future problem of global gridlock. As the population grows and more and more drivers take to the roads, traffic congestion will become a larger and larger problem.

Ford CEO Bill Ford said at a March TED conference:

“The freedom of mobility that my great-grandfather brought to people is now being threatened. Global gridlock is going to stifle economic growth and our ability to deliver food and health care, particularly to people that live in city centers, and our quality of life is going to be severely compromised.”

Self-driving cars could all-but eliminate the problem with their computer-aided ability to drive at high speeds without fear of collisions or jams.

Other developers

BMW, General Motors and Volkswagen are also working to develop robotic self-driving cars.


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New York Times
Bloomberg Businessweek

TED video: Sebastian Thrun and self-driving cars

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