Google Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Mahan

In this still shot from the Google video, the blind man, Steve Mahan, eats a burrito as the car drives him home.

To celebrate having safely completed 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, Google had one of its self-driving cars give a ride to a blind man — a first — and released a three-minute video on Tuesday about the ride. In the video, Google’s robotic Toyota Prius picks the man up at his home and takes him to a Taco Bell and to the dry cleaner.

The blind man, Steve Mahan, says in the video that 95% of his sight is gone and that he is “well past” being legally blind. As the car’s steering wheel turns all by itself, Mahan quips, “Look Ma, no hands!” Michael Winter writes for USA TODAY, that Mahan also jokes, “This is some of the best driving I’ve ever done.”

As Mark Hachman reports for PC Magazine:

Normally, placing a blind man behind the wheel could be grounds for an arrest. But the search giant said that the Google representative seated in the passenger seat was able to stop the car in the case of an emergency — which meets one of the restrictions set in place by Nevada, which approved a program to put self-driving cars on the road in the future. Nevada law also prohibits an inebriated driver from taking the wheel of an autonomous vehicle.

Of course, the test took place in California, not Nevada. California doesn’t have any clear guidelines for self-driving cars, but Google and police monitors said everything was perfectly legal with Mahan’s trip.

The video was filmed with the Morgan Hill Police Department (MHPD) and the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center in San Jose, California, of which Mahan is the CEO. MHPD’s Detective Sgt. Troy Hoefling, who helped oversee the test, said the drive was “absolutely flawless.”

Google said it organized the drive with Mahan as a technical experiment that provides a “promising look at what autonomous technology may one day deliver if rigorous technology and safety standards can be met,” according to Martin LaMonica, writing for CNET.

“Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things,” Mahan says in the video.

Google is not the only company working on self-driving cars. Germany’s Continental Automotive Group, whose U.S. headquarters are near Detroit, has been testing a self-driving car expected to reach the 10,000-mile mark in the next few weeks, according to Winter.

Winter adds, “When it reaches 10,000 test miles — 90% of them without touching the steering wheel or pedals — Continental’s automated, modified VW Passat would qualify for the road in Nevada, which last month became the first state to issue rules for driverless vehicles.”

The idea of self-driving cars eventually going into production and appearing on the market is sparking conversation. Among those who are enthusiastic, someone named “techgeekdude” posted the following comment under CNET’s article:

I have to say this is pretty amazing. This is something I think most people can get behind Google for.

Considering how many people still text and multitask when they shouldn’t be while driving, I think a follow up story should focus on how this drives with someone who lacks basic common sense.

You can see Google’s video here:

Image by Google, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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