For most of us, the Google driverless car project is just another esoteric thing that Silicone Valley billionaires do with all their money. However, it might surprise you to learn that the driverless car project has the potential to influence the direction that the automotive industry goes. Everything from cheap car insurance to motor vehicle laws could – and most likely will – be changed by this project.
The driverless car project is an ambitious undertaking by a team of Google-sponsored engineers to create artificial intelligence software powerful enough to enable a car to drive on the road. Importantly, the software these engineers are creating isn’t just intended to navigate the car so that it won’t hit the median or go into the ditch. The ambition is to create cars that can drive on the road with other drivers, reacting to the same stimuli human drivers respond to and making the same decisions human drivers make.
In 2005 the team won the DARPA Grand Challenge with a robotic vehicle named Stanley, and in recent years Google’s computer-driven cars have traveled over 125,000 kilometers without human intervention and over 200,000 kilometers with occasional human intervention.
And while driverless cars might seem like something out of a futuristic movie, they are actually much closer than you think. Nevada, California, and Florida all passed laws permitting the licensing of driverless cars this year. In May, the Nevada DMV issued the first license for a driverless car in US history – a Prius modified with Google’s driverless technology.
Importantly, the technology that allows a car to drive on its own will soon be making its way into the production cars that we drive. Those features will add a layer of automated safety that will enable our cars to regulate the way we drive in order to make driving safer for us and everybody else on the road. Although many drivers would balk at the idea of having their driving habits electronically modified, doing so might easily help to reduce the cost of car insurance.
One of the great advantages of driverless cars is that they follow speed limits, maintain a safe following distance, and don’t make the kind of opportunistic driving maneuvers that people tend to execute when they see an opening in a faster-moving lane.
While the idea of filling the road with computer-driven cars might seem a little Orwellian, few of us are going to argue with cheap car insurance or a few less crazy drivers. Not that it would matter if we did: if there’s one thing that seems certain about the Google driverless car, it is that the technology being developed to allow it to drive on its own will be coming soon to an automobile showroom near you.