Today, Google released its September monthly report from the Self-Driving Car Project. The report reveals that Google has also recently offered test rides in its own self-driven car prototype, which Car and Driver details.
The car doesn’t require a human driver, unlike Google’s collaboration with Lexus on the RX450h SUV, which is a modified vehicle that allows for manual driving.
Google created an obstacle course where the car could demonstrate its capabilities. Passengers sat on a bench, as Buzzfeed describes it, and there was no steering wheel — just a screen of what the car sees where it would be.
As of September 30, Google had 25 of its prototypes on public streets — 17 in Mountain View, California and eight in Austin, Texas — and 23 of the modified Lexus SUVs in Mountain View (17) and Austin (6), according to September’s report. Both have been wildly successful so far. Cars spent over 1.2 million miles in “autonomous mode,” much more than in “manual mode” (i.e., driving).
Obviously, Google can control its own playground demonstration, so the on-road tests are the real measure of the cars’ ability to navigate real-world situations. In the six years that Google’s been working on the self-driving car, though, there have been only 16 minor accidents and none were the Google car’s fault. Such success likely comes from extreme caution, such as slowing down for a pedestrian who’s far down the road. A human driver might not slow down at all, if the pedestrian doesn’t pose the threat of an accident, but Google’s car takes no chances.
Google appears to be leading the way in creating a totally self-driven car, but other companies are putting in their best efforts, too.
Robo Taxi Inc.
Self-driving taxis could hit the roads in Japan as early as 2016, The Wall Street Journal reports. Robo Taxi Inc.’s cars will include crew members who can operate the car in case of emergency. Otherwise, the vehicle is completely self-driving. To limit potential damage, Robo Taxi Inc. cars will offer rides to the grocery store (or distances of about two miles) and will stay on major city avenues, which have obstacles for which the company can plan.
Audi has made a prototype of its A7 Sportback that can drive itself. There’s still a steering wheel, unlike Robo Taxi and Google’s cars. Giving a broader projection, one of the project’s leaders thinks it’ll be at least 15 years before driverless cars become the norm.
Nissan wants a self-driving car on the road by 2020. But CEO Carlos Ghosn isn’t quite ready to take Google’s leap. He still wants a driver in the vehicle. He believes “the car of the future” is not driverless, but has more advanced assistance to reduce accidents.
Elon Musk’s Tesla could have autonomous vehicles on the road very soon. Again, there’ll be steering wheels. Tesla’s innovation is more like a very advanced cruise control. It’s simply one mode of a car that can drive traditionally.
Google is cute about the projections for its own cars, stating the project lead’s “goal is to make sure his 11-year-old son doesn’t need to get a driver’s license.” That’s still a long timeframe. Getting some partially self-driving cars on the road soon, though, would encourage carpooling, which is better for the environment. And eventually, the roads would be safer since robots are much better drivers than us.