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Google’s Smart Cars Drive Employees to Work

This week we’re one step closer to a total revolution in transportation: the prototypes of Google’s self-driving car have traversed 300,000 miles without a single accident (the few exceptions were due to human meddling). Lucky Google employees now use the computer-controlled cars on their daily commute, and as soon as the engineers fine tune the vehicles’ perfomance in rockier terrain, one hopes the public will get a look in. TechCrunch reports:

“One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars,” said Chris Urmson, Google’s engineering lead for this project, in a blog post today, “For now, our team members will remain in the driver’s seats and will take back control if needed.” There have, of course been some accidents that involved Google’s self-driving cars in the past. All of these, however, happened while humans were in control of the cars.

Via Meadia has been keeping a tab on this project, not only as a fascinating technological breakthrough but also as a harbinger of a new age of transportation, possibly as revolutionary as the steam engine in the 18th century. Whether you like it or not (and we like it), the closer these automatons get to the mass market, the further we’ll be from debates over massive, wasteful and hamfisted investments in things like high-speed rail.

For our part, we wish those Google geeks the best of luck.

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  • Walter Sobchak

    Huzzah for Google.

  • alex scipio

    One wonders at the reaction of auto insurance companies… are self-driving cars safer.. or more dangerous? Will rates go up .. or down?

    With, one assumes, a steadier foot on the pedal, they ought to get better mileage than human-driven cars, but one assumes the Luddites on the Left will dislike them for who-knows-what-reason(s)… probably because they aren’t trains, I guess…

    Can you send it out for its own carwash?

  • QET

    Why, exactly, do you like it?

  • Antonio

    mass transit could morph into a system where personal transit hooks up to some sort of locomotive for commuter or long haul rides. you want to go from Sacto to SF? or SF to LA? self-driving locomotives run every half hour, hook on and enjoy the ride. should compete with high speed well enough considering the convenience of having your own car once you arrive. has to be more energy efficient.

  • Boritz

    High speed rail isn’t about transportation. It’s a jobs program, and as George Will has pointed out it limits freedom in a way that furthers liberal goals.

  • Karun

    Google always does something unique and does it in a bigger manner but one question about their smart cars is that do they work the same way every time and is it safe for people using them.

  • JKB

    The problem I see is the same with all automated vehicles. Liability. When, and it will happen, one malfunctions and is responsible for an accident who pays for the damages? The owner or the company that created magic box?

    I remember a story about the DC Metro which operate on an auto system but have an operator as well. On winter with icing conditions, the auto system wasn’t adapting and the stopping distance was increasing. An operator requested permission to take control but was repeatedly denied. Well, right up until the auto system rear ended another train in a station killing the operator.

    The key thing to remember about the magic boxes like this, sometimes the magic fails.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m wondering what part of 300,000 without an accident the Luddites didn’t understand. What percentage of human drivers can match that? Somebody told me (so, per Harry Reid, it must be so) , for example that a commercial vehicle is involved in an accident every 6 seconds. An obvious application for the technology.
    The answer to the liability question is that is the responsibility of the driver to maintain control of his/her vehicle; that’s why drivers must have insurance. If, in fact, self-driving vehicles prove safer overall than human-driven ones, “drivers” of the former may well be eligible for discounts.

  • JKB

    First, it isn’t 300,000 WITHOUT an accident. Even so, one accident in that mileage would be a huge rate compared to the accident rate of all the vehicles on the road.

    But that doesn’t matter. The vehicles will, at some point, be involved in accidents. The populace may not accept being at the mercy of some computer, regardless of its record, then being responsible for its failures. Especially, if you have to try to maintain the same level of vigilance due to the need to take over in extremis. In fact, there is evidence that auto-pilot systems induce less vigilance in pilots and have contributed to crashes as the pilots are not up on the current status when failure requires them to take over.

    These vehicles will arrive but discounting the real problems has a risk of inducing public policy or human rejection. What do you think the response to a string of spectacular Google car deaths? Everybody turns off the magic box. Look at the panic induced over the discredited Toyota runaway car stories.

  • Andrew Allison

    “300,000 miles without a single accident (the few exceptions were due to human meddling).”

    “a commercial vehicle is involved in an accident every 6 seconds”

    “A 1985 report based on British and American crash data found driver error, intoxication and other human factors contribute wholly or partly to about 93% of crashes.”

    I rest my case.

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