Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and myriad other science-fiction movies have made self-driving robot cars the benchmark of “the future.”* Well, Google and Uber are working to make the future now.
Catch A Ride with A Soulless Death Machine
Uber, the book-a-ride-with-a-smartphone-app, kinda-sorta-but-not-exactly taxi service, have been working on self-driving cars for some time now. Working from their newly-established Advanced Technologies Centre at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Uber has been building automocars with scanners and cameras mounted on the roof. These cameras spot obstacles, pedestrians, curves and other road features, and other potential hazards.
If all goes as planned, Uber users will (relatively) soon be able order up a ride from their phone and have a self-driving car arrive moments later. Now, instead of potentially dying at the hands of a serial killer moonlighting as an unregistered cab driver, you can die in a fiery wreck when your driverless car runs headlong into a runaway cement truck and gets t-boned by a runaway gasoline truck simultaneously. It’ll be absolutely spectacular.
The biggest potential threat, however, is still in R&D. In an email to the Pittsburgh Business Times, Uber spokeswoman Trina Smith said the self-driving cars are “part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety, and autonomy systems.” Autonomy, the first crucial step toward artificial intelligence. AI, as the smartest person who has ever lived has warned, will likely be responsible for the fall of mankind.
Google Robocars Pushing 1 Million Miles
Google, the increasingly dark overlords of the internet and, by extension, the world, have thus far been the pioneers of the self-driving car. After a few years of R&D, their self-driving cars will begin real world road tests this summer.
While Google’s test model self-drivers were modified Lexus RX450h SUVs, the fleet of 25 Googlemobiles that will hit the road in the coming months are completely proprietary designs. Built by Roush Industries, out of Detroit, Michigan, the pod-like vehicles will seat two and be “the world’s first fully self-driving” cars, as Google themselves put it.
New passenger and pedestrian protection systems are being tested, as well. So far, these include foam front ends, flexible windshields, and a top speed of 25 MPH. Other important features include steering wheels and gas and brake pedals. Initially, the brains at Google insisted the self-driving cars wouldn’t need such control systems; now, they’ve changed their tune. Engineers will ride along in the auto-drivers and take manual control, if needed.
Google stated in a recent blog post that their automated test cars have been driving roughly 10,000 miles per week, and have tallied nearly 1 million miles on public roads around the company’s Mountain View, California, headquarters.
Over the course of those million miles, the cars were involved in 11 accidents, the “majority” of which occurred on city streets and not the freeway. So, six on streets and five on the freeway, then?
According to project director Chris Urmson, “Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.” In a strictly “rules of the road” sense, that may technically be true, but I’d be willing to bet my best pair of pants that, with a human behind the wheel, most if not all of those dustups could’ve been avoided.
* Personally, I’d rather have a flying car a la Back to the Future Part II, but those are at least another three years off.