Last week, at a technology conference in California, Google unveiled the prototype of its driverless car, a two-seater that has no steering wheel or any other driver controls.
As others have noted, the idea of the driverless car – assuming it can be done right – is enormously attractive, and not just for the reasons in Google’s breathless introduction. A fleet of semi-autonomous electric of hydrogen-powered vehicles could be a boon in all kinds of ways, including the potential for making our roads and highways much safer, for dealing with growing demand and the environment, for freeing up current drivers’ time to do more productive things than steer a car.
“Just imagine,” says Google on its official blog:
You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.
Google’s robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 lidar (light radar) system. The range finder mounted on the top is a Velodyne 64-beam laser. This laser allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.