Today in tech

Google’s self driving cars

Today+in+tech

Steve Jurvetson

Brianna Ramsdell

Welcome to the future- the gadgets we’ve seen in the movies are finally becoming a reality. Not only are cellphones, tablets and other small devices beefing up their technology, but, larger machines are beginning to take the next step as well. Take for example Google’s newest prototype, a self driving car. Sure, there have been vehicles like this constructed in the past, but Google has now taken it a step further. “How?” you might ask, well the answer is simple- in this model, they’ve eliminated the brake pedal, the gas pedal, and even the steering wheel.

I wasn’t kidding, this car completely drives itself. By using advanced sensors, cameras, and software, it is very aware of its surroundings. To avoid crashes during testing, the speed of this vehicle has been capped at 25 miles per hour, but it can still do some pretty amazing things. No longer will you have to check for oncoming traffic when pulling out of a street, or stare blankly at a stoplight, just leave it up to your car. Even four way stop signs don’t pose a problem to this integrated piece of technology, it can sense when it is safe to proceed.

The technology that goes into this vehicle is not cheap. The car has about $150,000 worth of equipment, including a $70,000 LiDAR system, which is a remote sensing technology that has the ability to measure distance with great accuracy. There is also a laser mounted on top of the car that allows it to create 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.

Not only is this autonomous machine helpful for those who are terrible drivers, but it can also be life changing for people with disabilities or handicaps that hinder their driving abilities. Imagine not being able to leave your house whenever you want to or need to because something restricts you from doing so, thanks to Google, that may not have to be a problem anymore. Once you get in the car, you just punch in or speak your destination to the screen, and away you go. No longer will people be stuck in their homes or helpless, this can be a chance for them to live a normal, free life.

However, just because Google is producing this amazing and groundbreaking technology, doesn’t mean everyone feels safe enough to use it. A recent Pew survey showed that half of Americans would not ride in a self driving car. As of now, there are only four states (California, Nevada, Florida and Michigan) that allow self driving cars on their streets. Google has stated that one major drawback of the vehicle is that it currently cannot “handle heavy rain and snow-covered roads”, which can pose as a very serious problem to many. In addition to this, the sensors can sometimes overcompensate for small items on the road, such as trash, causing the car to unnecessarily veer, and it also has trouble maneuvering around parking lots. Another major danger is that the car’s LiDAR technology cannot spot potholes or humans, such as a police officer waving someone to stop, which could have a tragic end result. Do not fret however, Google plans to have these kinks worked out by 2020.

As Google continues to perfect these prototypes, surely more states will welcome computer operated automobiles onto their streets. Although, the “sci-fi” feel of a car that does all the work may leave many people skeptical, imagine how much safer the roads would be without the crazy speeders and roadrage that puts everyone at risk.