Google's Autonomous Robotic Car

The Google autonomous car is no mere lab prototype; this self-driving robotic car has logged more than 140,000 miles on regular roads, with only occasional human intervention.

(Google autonomous car)

With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.

During a half-hour drive beginning on Google’s campus 35 miles south of San Francisco last Wednesday, a Prius equipped with a variety of sensors and following a route programmed into the GPS navigation system nimbly accelerated in the entrance lane and merged into fast-moving traffic on Highway 101, the freeway through Silicon Valley.

It drove at the speed limit, which it knew because the limit for every road is included in its database, and left the freeway several exits later. The device atop the car produced a detailed map of the environment.

The project is the brainchild of Sebastian Thrun, the 43-year-old director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a Google engineer and the co-inventor of the Street View mapping service.

(From Diagram of Google robotic car)

Science fiction fans have been waiting for self-driving cars for at least seventy years. In his 1941 novel Methuselah's Children, Robert Heinlein imagined an autonomous car:

The car slid up the ramp, waited until the traffic control signaled a predicted break in traffic, then joined the high-speed northbound stream. Mary Risling settled back for a little nap...

She woke just before the signal from the car which would have called her... She signaled the traffic control ahead; it cut her out of the stream of vehicles and reduced the speed of her car, then rang the alarm which notified her to resume local control.
(Read more about Heinlein's self-driving car)

I should also mention the spinner, from Roger Zelazny's 1966 story The Dream Master.

Via NYTimes.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/9/2010)

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