At the TED 2011 conference this week, Google has been giving extremely rare demos of its self-driving cars. TED attendees have even been allowed to travel inside them, on a closed course. Below, some video of the action.
Google’s Robot Cars
Google’s Sebastian Thrun, the software engineer who heads the project, gave a short talk at TED in Long Beach, California, about the effort — including a touching opening about how he was influenced to research ways to make driving safer by after a childhood friend had been killed by a car.
Thrun showed a video montage of the auto-driving cars on regular roads that was pretty amazing. You could see the cars avoiding things like a deer that dashed in front of one or another making it carefully around a small hillside road, as a large truck came toward it.
Real Life Demos On Closed Course
Outside the TED event, Google used a nearby parking lot to give people first-hand demos of the driverless cars. Here’s video that I shot of one of the cars zooming around the lot:
The car is going so fast because Google specifically programmed it to do so, in this case. Normally, it wouldn’t be making all those squeals and cornering so hard. But because it’s on a closed course, Google choose to demo that it can drive aggressively, if needed. You’ll notice the operator driving it at the very end, and that’s because the automated route ends a bit further back from the loading area.
The robo-car knows the route it’s supposed to follow, in this case. It needs a special route programmed, because there are no roads to follow. If it were on a regular street, typically a destination would be programmed in as with a GPS, a general route computed, and then the car would navigate. It has even driven routes from San Francisco to Los Angeles, all through automation, Google says.
View From Inside
Below is the trip I took inside the automated car. There’s a safety driver next to me, but once the car goes to automatic, he’s simply a passenger: