Google held an event for several tech reporters this week in which it allowed them to actually try out some of the self-driving cars it has been working on for years, and it shocked most of those who participated by showing them the cars are a real thing that will be hitting the world by storm sooner than they could have imagined.
It has previously been easy to think of the idea of a Google car that can take over the driver’s job as science fiction-like fantasy, but, after this revolutionary test drive, it cannot be denied that the artificial intelligence automobiles are a looming reality. In the past, in fact, most auto executives have said self-driving cars are more than a decade away. The director of the Google self-driving car team, Chris Urman, confidently asserted that the self-driving Google cars would be street-ready within four years.
“I have a 12-year-old son. My goal is for him not to need a driver’s license [when he’s 16],” Urman said.
Of course, “close to” perfection will not suffice in this case. The technology Google uses has to be absolutely perfect before it is put in control of a car – a.k.a. a potentially deadly weapon – that is put out on the streets.
Critics were floored by just how smart the smartcars Google had worked on were, however.
“They conveyed an artificial intelligence that already suggests itself to be superior in many ways to the distracted, impatient and often imprudent behavior of human drivers,” writes a reporter for Forbes when discussing his experience at the Google event.
A writer for Business Insider elaborated.
“That changed completely less than 24 hours after Google’s presentation, when I had to drive to and from Los Altos, California. What would otherwise have seemed like a completely typical trip suddenly made me realize just how pathetic a driver I am compared to one of Google’s cars.”
Basically, the fact that Google self-driving cars use a computer rather than a human brain to do the driving means that Google cars will be much better drivers than humans can be.
For example, as Google pointed out at the event, the cars use a combination of cameras, lasers, and radar to be aware at all times of areas within 200 yards of the car. Plus, the cameras have 360 degree visibility. Humans, even the ones with great vision, cannot see that far, and they can only see with 120 degree visibility. Google cars one, human drivers zero.
Another example: people’s senses deteriorate as they age. Their hearing and sight goes, and they become more prone to missing road obstacles or becoming distracted. But the driving program Google designed actually learns more about the roads you commonly travel as time goes on, so the system actually polishes itself as time goes on. According to Google, the database for its cars has already collected knowledge equal to 90 years of driving experience, and that number will only grow each month. Google cars two, human drivers zero.
Humans are hindered by reflexes. Google is not. That means Google cars can detect any obstacles that pop up instantaneously and take actions to avoid it within a fraction of a second. For instance, maybe someone is driving and a child on a bike darts out of a side street in front of your car. A human’s reflexes might be too slow to register the bike and brake quickly enough, but the Google car’s cyber-brain is certainly up to the task. Google cars three, human drivers… still zero.
We can all see the way this game is headed.
And for all those worried the Google driving experience will not be comfortable, Google addressed those issues at the event too.
As Forbes reports, just a look at the interior makes it clear it is meant for riding, not driving. So you can hit the green “go” button located next to the emergency stop button on the Google car’s center console, sit back on the upholstered and heated bench-like seat, and read or listen to music (preferably from the Google Play store) while basking in the glow of the interior mood lights Google put in the cars. There were also several buttons featuring people wearing headsets located next to the seat, reporters said, but Google declined to reveal what they were for.
It is undeniable that this technology, which will undoubtedly change the world for good, is coming fast. And Google is leading the charge.
[Image via Justin Sullivan]