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Google Has Improved Its Self-Driving Car

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Google's-self-driving-carGoogle’s self-driving car can now handle “thousands of situations” on city streets that it was not able to only two years ago, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, said in a blog post, as Stephen Shankland writes for CNET. For example, Google’s self-driving car can now recognize bicyclists who signal to move across a lane of traffic, as well as railroad crossings, parked cars protruding into the traffic lane, more than one pedestrian and cyclist at an intersection, and orange traffic cones by a construction zone, Shankland writes.

Urmson writes on his blog that during the past year Google has been focusing its self-driving car project on city street driving because of such challenges as double-parked delivery trucks, cars “lurching” out of hidden driveways, and pedestrians who jaywalk. Google’s self-driving car is learning to master challenges that can be taxing to humans, Urmson writes. He adds: “At a busy time of day, a typical city street can leave even experienced drivers sweaty-palmed and irritable.”

A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to such things in ways that humans can’t, and the vehicles never get tired or distracted, Urmson writes. He adds that what seems chaotic and complex to a human is “fairly predictable” to a computer. Google’s self-driving cars have now driven almost 700,000 autonomous miles, Urmson notes.

Shankland reports that analyst firm IHS forecast in January that sales of self-driving cars will increase from 230,000 in 2025 to 11.8 million in 2035, and that by 2050, all cars on the road will be self-driving. He quotes IHS principal analyst Egil Juliussen as saying in a statement that as the percentage of self-driving cars on the road increases, accident rates will decrease steadily. Self-driving cars will also relieve traffic congestion and air pollution, Juliussen said.

In an article appearing in The Washington Post, Associated Press writes that Google hopes to bring self-driving cars to the market by 2017. In the beginning, human drivers will have to take control if the cars’ computers should fail, but eventually there will be no need for humans to drive the cars, and they will be free to sleep, read, daydream, or work while the car drives, AP writes.

Commenters were enthusiastic about Urmson’s Google blog post. A commenter named Viet-Tam Luu writes: “I accidentally biked in front of one in one of the Stierlin Ct. parking lots and it braked to avoid running me over, so I can attest to it working!” And one named Seth Jeffries writes:

In 5th grade I remember that the Weekly Reader told me self driving cars would be reality by 2000. So they were wrong, but I’ve been looking forward to this to come to fruition since that time. 20 years of anticipation…

As this blog has written, Nevada was the first state to legalize the testing of self-driving cars on public roads, with the license given to Google. The company began testing its self-driving cars in California in 2011, which had no laws prohibiting the vehicles.

Google is not the only company working on self-driving vehicles, as CNET notes. Nissan and General Motors hope to have them on the roads by 2020; Ford Motor Company has a prototype car; and Tesla wants its cars to handle 90% of driving tasks by 2016, CNET writes. As we reported in December 2013, Volvo announced plans to test 100 cars on Sweden’s roads.

Colorado State Senator Greg Brophy had at one point proposed a driverless car bill for this state, but in February 2013 he postponed it indefinitely after Google said it would not support the bill, as this blog reported. No details were given as to why Google declined to support the bill.

Here is a video about the progress Google has made with its self-driving car:



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