Are Self-Driving Cars a Real Thing?
FACT: While Google is only one of many companies working on self-driving car technology (Toyota plans a release by 2020 as well, while others plan for release as early as 2017), they are the most notable in terms of accomplishments so far and in likelihood of being one of the first to offer viable self-driving cars commercially.
A short video by Google showing the Google Self-Driving Car.
FACT: The Google Self-Driving Car (SDC) is a project by Google X. The software powering Google’s cars is called Google Chauffeur.
The Technology of a Self-Driving Car
In basic terms, a self-driving car works by using laser sensors that detect the world around the car. The sensors feed information to an onboard computer. The computer controls the car based on the sensor data and a hierarchy of rules that govern safe driving.
What Companies are Making Self-Driving Cars and When Will They Go to Market?
Volvo plans to put out a self-driving car by 2017 (currently called the Concept 26), Ford is trying to bring one to market by 2019, while Toyota and Google are all planning on 2020. It’s unclear as to which of the auto companies will release self-driving cars and in which year the fully autonomous automobile will be released.
A promo video by Volvo showing off the “Concept 26” which includes an “autopilot” mode in which the car actually drives itself.
The History of the Self-Driving Car
Below is a quick overview of of the history of autonomous machines leading up to the first self-driving car.
Autonomous Machines From 1860 Until 2004
Engineers have been working on autonomous vehicles (vehicles that “drive” themselves) since Robert Whitehead developed a prototype for a self-propelled torpedo. Since that time there have been a number of “driverless” vehicles and autonomous robots from industrial machines to military drones. However, there wasn’t much action in regards to a self-driving car until inventions in the 1960’s and 70’s like Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Cart (1964-1971).
A documentary about autonomous robots. The truth is in there.
Despite the large amount of autonomous machines over the years, it wasn’t until 2004 – 2005 that the public was first introduced to a functional self-driving car. In 2005 several self-driving cars, including one using Google technology and Google engineers, completed the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge.
The DARPA Grand Challenge
The DARPA Grand Challenge is a prize competition for American autonomous vehicles, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the most prominent research organization of the United States Department of Defense.Hundreds of teams comprised of high schools, universities, businesses and other organizations have entered the competition.
The 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge
Although the 2004 saw self-driving cars racing, the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge is notable because it was the first race of it’s kind in which a winner was declared.
Stamford’s Stanley Wins the 2005 DARPA
Stamford won with the 2005 DARPA with their self-driving car “Stanley” (a collaboration between Google, Stanford, and Volkswagen). The win earned them a US $2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense.
Sebastian Thrun, the former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View led the Stamford team that built “Stanley”. Stanford University’s Stanford Racing Team consisted of Thrun, 15 Google engineers, and a few others in cooperation with the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL).
From Stanley, to Google X, to Google’s Self-Driving Car
The technology and development that went into building Stanley went on to become the Google self-driving car. Between 2005 and 2012 most of the work was done in private. In 2010 Google launched Google X (a semi-secret research and development facility run by Google) to work on the Google Self-Driving Car.
Google’s Self-Driving Car 2012 to 2015
In 2012 Google announced: “Our vehicles, of which about a dozen are on the road at any given time, have now completed more than 300,000 miles of testing. They’ve covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn’t been a single accident under computer control.”
In 2015 reports came out of Google’s Self-Driving Cars being pulled over for going too slow (although since there was no driver, no ticket was issued) and getting in two accidents (both caused by humans who re-ended the car). To date there is no reported accidents in which Google’s Self-Driving Car was at fault.
In June 2015, the team announced that their vehicles have now driven over 1 million miles, stating that this was “the equivalent of 75 years of typical U.S. adult driving”, and that in the process they had encountered 200,000 stop signs, 600,000 traffic lights, and 180 million other vehicles.
As of September 2015, Google had test driven their fleet of vehicles 1,210,676 miles.