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Monday, November 19, 2012

Google's self driving cars

        Today a little diversion into another way Google is looking to change our world.

     First Google changed our lives with its innovative search engine.  Then they captured us with their email program,images and maps.  They bought You Tube.  They are scanning in books from major university libraries.  Whew!  Just when you thought they couldn't come up with the next revolutionary advancement comes the story about their work on self driving cars.  Google representatives have even demonstrated the cars in DCCNN Money shows the technology in work with self driving cars.    So what are the benefits besides the obvious one of allowing us to just sit back and be a passenger on long trips?  The three big ones are safety, highway congestion and fuel economy.

    How many of the 30,000 lives lost each year by computer controlled cars is uncertain.  While most fatal crashes involve some element of driver error, there are still times when humans can make judgements better than a computer.  We are already seeing the beginnings of some of this safety technology on today's cars.  Anti-lock braking is now almost universal on new cars.  Again CNN Money reports on these new technologies:
"GM's new Cadillac XTS, for instance, will brake automatically if a driver fails to respond to an imminent collision. Nissan's  Infiniti division has a several models that provide slight braking to nudge a vehicle back into its lane if it begins to drift out. Many luxury cars are now also available with "active cruise control" that allows a car driving at highway cruising speeds to automatically maintain a safe following distance behind the car ahead. In some models, these systems can work even in stop-and-go city traffic."

  When it comes to traffic congestion the self driven car holds tremendous potential to greatly reduce our current traffic congestion and need to constantly expand road capacity.  By reducing the distance between cars congestion could be significantly reduced.  We have all been in miles long traffic jams that were simply caused by the uneven braking of cars to a car along the shoulder of the road.  Given the billions spent every year on highway expansion this is a huge budget savings for every level of government.  I once heard that if we wanted to see what a 5% reduction in traffic congestion during rush hour would be like just think what commuting in August is like. 

    Finally the potential fuel economy by self driven cars with its potential to reduce the stopping and starting of traffic congestion and the uneven driving habits of drivers could provide significant gas savings.  Given that cruise control increases gas mileage by 10-15 % the amount saved by a self driven car on congested roads should at a minimum match this amount of savings.

    While a fully self driven car maybe still be many years in the future (to say nothing of the cost) but lessons learn from these cars have the potential for developing new features we could more commonly see on our cars in the near future.
Watch a video on the self driven cars.

1 comment:

Andre Brennan said...

‘Humans can make judgements better than a computer.’ – You’re right about this statement. However, I do believe that technological advancements are not integrated into cars to substitute human judgment, but to aid it. And I agree with you that data and information acquired in the development of a self-driven car can help in developing new features to create safer, more convenient cars in the future.