Google Driverless Cars Raise FBI Worries About Criminal Use

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-07-18 Print this article Print
Google driverless cars

In May, Google announced that it is taking another huge step in its pursuit of developing self-driving cars by choosing to build its next generations of the vehicles on its own, rather than using modified cars from existing automakers. The next generation of Google self-driving cars will be similar to its first generations, which are designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention.

The vehicles have no steering wheels, accelerator pedals or brake pedals. Instead, Google's software and sensors do all the work of driving, according to the company. Google plans to build about 100 prototype vehicles, with testing to begin with the early models later this summer. Those early models will include manual controls as backups while the vehicles are tested and proven. Inside the prototypes, there will be few creature comforts, but there will be two seatbelt-equipped seats, a space for passengers' belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route.

The vehicles will be equipped with special sensors and hardware that give them their self-driving capabilities while also including special safety features such as a flexible windshield and a foam-like front end to protect pedestrians in the event of a crash, according to Google. The vehicles will also include electric batteries for propulsion as well as primary and backup systems for steering and braking. The first artist's renderings and photos of the vehicles display a rounded design that looks a bit like stylized versions of early Volkswagen Beetles.

Previous Google self-driving vehicles so far have included Toyota Prius and Lexus models.

More than 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents each year around the world (some 3,400 per day) and about 93 percent of those crashes are due to human error, according to Google. That's a key area where the idea of self-driving cars can eventually be beneficial, the company maintains.

In April 2014, Google announced that it had started a new effort to teach its self-driving vehicles how to master the challenges of city driving, such as heavy traffic, pedestrians and other urban hazards. The work is continuing to help teach the self-driving cars all the things they need to know as Google might expand its program in the future. The traffic scene in city driving is much different from the freeway driving that the self-driving cars have done so far.

Since Google's last update on its self-driving car program back in August 2012, the company has logged thousands of miles on the streets of Mountain View, Calif., where Google is headquartered.

Before an automated car takes to the road, Google sends out a driver to map the route and road conditions, logging lane markers and traffic signs to become familiar with terrain, according to an earlier eWEEK report. This road information is relayed to software in Google's data centers.

Armed with this intelligence, the automated hybrid cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see" other traffic, along with detailed maps. The cars stop at stop signs and traffic lights completely on their own. A trained safety operator sits in the driver seat to take the wheel in case the software goes buggy while a Google software engineer rides in the passenger seat to monitor the car's software.


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