The Google Driverless Car is a project by Google that involves developing technology for driverless cars. The project is currently being led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View, whose team at Stanford created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and its US$2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense. The team developing the system consisted of 15 engineers working for Google, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski who had worked on the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges.
Lobbied by Google, the Nevada Legislature passed a law in June 2011 to authorize the use of autonomous vehicles. Nevada became the first state where driverless vehicles can be legally operated on public roads. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is now responsible for setting safety and performance standards and for designating areas where driverless cars may be tested.
The system combines information gathered from Google Street View with artificial intelligence software that combines input from video cameras inside the car, a LIDAR sensor on top of the vehicle, radar sensors on the front of the vehicle and a position sensor attached to one of the rear wheels that helps locate the car’s position on the map. As of 2010, Google has tested several vehicles equipped with the system, driving 1,609 kilometres (1,000 mi) without any human intervention, in addition to 225,308 kilometres (140,000 mi) with occasional human intervention. Google anticipates that the increased accuracy of its automated driving system could help reduce the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths, while using energy and space on roadways more efficiently.
The project team has equipped a test fleet of seven vehicles, consisting of six Toyota Prius and an Audi TT, each accompanied in the driver’s seat by one of a dozen drivers with unblemished driving records and in the passenger seat by one of Google’s engineers. The car has traversed San Francisco’s Lombard Street, famed for its steep hairpin turns and through city traffic. The vehicles have driven over the Golden Gate Bridge and on the Pacific Coast Highway, and have circled Lake Tahoe. The system drives at the speed limit it has stored on its maps and maintains its distance from other vehicles using its system of sensors. The system provides an override that allows a human driver to take control of the car by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel, similar to cruise control systems already in cars.
While Google had no immediate plans to commercially develop the system, the company hopes to develop a business which would market the system and the data behind it to automobile manufacturers. An attorney for the California Department of Motor Vehicles raised concerns that “The technology is ahead of the law in many areas” citing state laws that “all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.” According to the New York Times, policy makers and regulators have argued that new laws will be required if driverless vehicles are to become a reality because “the technology is now advancing so quickly that it is in danger of outstripping existing law, some of which dates back to the era of horse-drawn carriages.”
Google lobbied for two bills that made Nevada the first state where driverless vehicles can be legally operated on public roads. The first bill is an amendment to an electric vehicle bill that provides for the licensing and testing of autonomous vehicles. The second bill will provide an exemption from the ban on distracted driving to permit occupants to send text messages while sitting behind the wheel. The two bills came to a vote before the Legislature’s session ended in June 2011. It has been speculated that Nevada was selected due to the Las Vegas Auto Show and the Consumer Electronics Show, and the high likelihood that Google will present the first commercially viable product at either or both of these events. However Google executives refused to state the precise reason for Nevada to be the maiden state for their driverless car.