You'd think with the slew of mobile and tablet devices running Android, the upcoming Gingerbread and Honeycomb updates, and the general business of running the biggest online company in the world, there'd be precious little spare time down at Google HQ.
Well, you'd be wrong, as according to a blog post by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, Google has also found time to build and test cars that drive themselves around California - completely free of human interference.
The cars are equipped with radar, video cameras and laser range-finders which they use to map the driving environment around them and navigate to their destination without hitting things. The routes the cars take are driven by conventional human drivers first, who note down road markings, traffic lights and anything else likely to go unnoticed by the car. Afterwards the information is fed into the car's central computer, which guides the car along to its destination.
The cars, which have been unleashed so far on San Francisco, have human handlers present in the driving seat at all times, as well as a software engineer in the passenger seat, just in case the car goes Skynet and tries to steer accross a playground. So far the Google cars have successfully managed to merge with traffic and navigate long tunnels, where GPS signals can't reach, clocking up 140,000 miles.
Thrun claims that automated cars like those tested by Google could eventually cut the number of lives lost in traffic accidents in half, as journeymakers sit in long, perfectly spaced lines of intelligent vehicles as they travel along the motorways.
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