Google plans to make its driverless cars available to the public in three years and, just last week, it invited two dozen journalists to a press briefing on the progress of the automotive technology.
CBR tells you five things you need to know about the technology, competition and business model.
1. How does it work?
Launched in 2009, the vehicles use a modified Lexus RX450h with light detection and ranging technology (LIDAR), which is mounted on the roof and spins constantly to see the world around it. The car’s orientation sensors include lasers and radar technology, which tracks everything around the car at once, while a front camera detects what lies ahead.
All of this information is then fed to an onboard processor that creates a detailed 3D map of the car’s surroundings in real-time, allowing it to navigate safely.
Pre-loaded maps, which include details of the precise location of the curbs and height of traffic lights, are also stored in the car’s memory, so the software knows what to expect before it drives. So far Google has been able to map only 2,000 miles of roads in the US, meaning 99.95% of US roads are yet to be mapped.
Other models of Google’s car include a Toyota Prius and an Audi TT.
2. Is it safe?
Self-driving cars are expected to eliminate 90% of the 33,000 vehicle fatalities a year, according to Larry Burns, a Google consultant and former GM’s VP for R&D.
Back in April, Google posted in a blog that its driverless cars have driven more than 700,000 miles on California roads without any accident.
Recode’s Liz Gannes, one of the journalists invited to the event, said: "I didn’t feel unsafe in the least…The car braked for jaywalkers, paused when it was coming around a curve and couldn’t see whether the light in front of us was green or red, and skittered when it worried that a bus might be turning into our lane."
However, Dmitri Dolgov, the team’s head for software, pointed out that an issue for driverless cars going forward is acclimating sensors to weather conditions, such as rain or snow, elsewhere in the world.