Published October 20, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO – Self-driving car technology was unveiled by Google, the pioneering search engine turned car maker.
The website's co-founder Sergey Brin announced Wednesday that 10 percent of the company is working on innovative projects outside the web domain -- the first of which is the building of "autonomous" cars.
The driverless vehicles, which travel through normal roads under the instruction of computers, are designed to help people with mobility issues and to combat congestion.
"There are a lot of people who can't get around, whether you have a disability, whether you're old or you're young," Brin told the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco.
He added, "There's also just incredible urban congestion caused by the need for parking. There's highway congestion because humans don't accurately drive on roads with smaller spacing. There's a tremendous opportunity to improve the world."
The vehicle works using a rotating $75,000 laser on its roof called a "lidar" that gives a 360-degree, 3D understanding of the car's surroundings that is accurate to two centimeters, or about an inch.
A computer in the trunk compares this information with known maps, and as a result, the car knows every road and traffic light but also can react to other cars and pedestrians, in any weather conditions and at any time of day.
Brin said that autonomous cars successfully completed a "1,000-miles challenge," in which they drove through a complex route including city streets and fast highways without human intervention.
"They surmounted the challenge," he said. "A thousand miles is a good deal. But we do need to get on to doing a million miles. We're getting there -- I'm optimistic."
Brin said the project remains in the research and development stage and will not go on sale for some time.
Nevada gave the green light to self-driving cars earlier this year by passing a bill that will require its state Department of Motor Vehicles to draw up rules for the autonomous vehicles.
Google hopes that the US government and others around the world will follow suit.