Self-Driving Cars by Google


Google's secret car project (image source: NY Times)


If you live around San Francisco or Los Angeles, you may have seen one of seven unique self-driving Google Prius cars pass by.  While these are not Transformers or futuristic cars from the Minority Report, but they can drive around without humans (although these tests have included a human driver and software engineer as backup).

According to the NY Times, these seven cars have logged an impressive 1,000 miles without human intervention, and over 140,000 miles with very little human assistance.  And the Official Google Blog states that the goal of this project is to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use,” of which “1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents [according to the World Health Organization].”

Some people are already criticizing Google for branching into the auto industry and other industries, such as associates from the San Francisco Chronicle (SF Gate 1 & 2).  Two of the arguments include how Google should focus its energy & resources into its core business of searching instead of deviating into new areas.  Google is also using the “old-fashioned” research & development models (R&D) of large corporations to innovate instead or relying on contemporary research and investment methods such as the “Silicon Valley” which uses private investors for funding new projects.

Supposedly, the Silicon Valley model is more efficient, but I don’t follow this logic.  There are many ways to innovate, and in terms of incentive for further creation & development of a product, why limit yourself to one model if others work comparatively well too? Also, this venture is in its early infancy, so time will tell whether Google does spin-off a new company separate from its parent Google corporation.

As for Google branching into new industries, I think the more competition the better.  It’s possible that if Google strays too far from its core business, what it has historically done really well in, that the company could suffer financial setbacks or stagnate their innovative success. However, it is a noble goal for Google to help save lives with this new technology, and it is very welcome (although a little scary to trust technology with your life–traveling at high speeds with risk of computer malfunctions).

However, I think that Google is looking at traffic patterns & accidents from an information perspective.  Of the tens of thousands of fatal car crashes are reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration each year, many due to human error and could be avoided. Technology already exists in some car models, such as backup cameras in the Toyota Prius, that should be included in all new cars as standard features.  With “robotic” cars, much of the human error can be removed from the equation.


DARPA Grand Challenge (image source: Wikipedia)


Keep in mind that driverless cars have already been created by various organizations over the years.  Some have competed in the Department of Defense’s DARPA Grand Challenge. The army could employ this technology to deliver food, supplies, or perhaps a bomb through dangerous destination without having to put human life in jeopardy, or pulling out troops under fire without risking the life of a driver who traditionally needs to be exposed to navigate streets or terrain.


The Jetson's (image source: Wikipedia)


My mind keeps bringing up images of the automatic cars in the Minority Report, or the self-driving flying machines in the Jetsons.  I’ve seen many nick name references to these cars, such as Goomobiles. I’d like to through my own terms in the mix and call the cars either “Goobers” or “Gobsters” just to spice things up and be silly.


About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on October 11, 2010, in Google, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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