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The Google Self-Driving Car is a project by Google that involves developing technology for autonomous cars, mainly electric cars. The software powering Google's cars is called Google Chauffeur. Lettering on the side of each car identifies it as a "self-driving car". The project is currently being led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. Thrun's team at Stanford created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and its US$2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense. The team developing the system consisted of 15 engineers working for Google, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski who had worked on the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges.
Legislation has been passed in four states and Washington, D.C. allowing driverless cars. The state of Nevada passed a law on June 29, 2011, permitting the operation of autonomous cars in Nevada, after Google had been lobbying in that state for robotic car laws. The Nevada law went into effect on March 1, 2012, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for an autonomous car in May 2012, to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology. In April 2012, Florida became the second state to allow the testing of autonomous cars on public roads, and California became the third when Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law at Google HQ in Mountain View. In December 2013, Michigan became the fourth state to allow testing of driverless cars in public roads. In July 2014, the city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho adopted a robotics ordinance that includes provisions to allow for self-driving cars.
On May 28, 2014, Google presented a new prototype of their driverless car that had neither a steering wheel nor pedals.
Google's robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 LiDAR system. The range finder mounted on the top is a Velodyne 64-beam laser. This laser allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.
Currently (as of June 2014), the system works with a very high definition inch-precision map of the area the vehicle is expected to use, including how high the traffic lights are; in addition to on-board systems, some computation is performed on remote computer farms.
The project team has equipped a test group of at least ten cars, including six Toyota Prius, an Audi TT, and three Lexus RX450h, each accompanied in the driver's seat by one of a dozen drivers with unblemished driving records and in the passenger seat by one of Google's engineers. The car has traversed San Francisco's Lombard Street, famed for its steep hairpin turns, and through city traffic. The vehicles have driven over the Golden Gate Bridge and around Lake Tahoe. The system drives at the speed limit it has stored on its maps and maintains its distance from other vehicles using its system of sensors. The system provides an override that allows a human driver to take control of the car by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel, similar to cruise control systems already found in many cars today.
On March 28, 2012, Google posted a YouTube video showing Steve Mahan, a resident of Morgan Hill, California, being taken on a ride in Google's self-driving Toyota Prius. In the video, Mahan states "Ninety-five percent of my vision is gone, I'm well past legally blind". In the description of the YouTube video, it is noted that the carefully programmed route takes him from his home to a drive-through restaurant, then to the dry cleaning shop, and finally back home.
In August 2012, the team announced that they have completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles (500,000 km) accident-free, typically have about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and are starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs. Four U.S. states have passed laws permitting autonomous cars as of December 2013: Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan. A law proposed in Texas would establish criteria for allowing "autonomous motor vehicles".
In April 2014, the team announced that their vehicles have now logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles (1.1 million km). In late May, Google revealed a new prototype of its driverless car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, being 100% autonomous.
In 2010, an incident involved a Google driverless car being rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light; Google says that this incident was caused by a human-operated car. In August 2011, a Google driverless car was involved in a crash near Google headquarters in Mountain View, California; Google has stated that the car was being driven manually at the time of the accident.
As of August 28, 2014 the latest prototype cannot "handle heavy rain and snow-covered roads.". Functionally it can go at sluggish speeds when crossing an unmarked 4-way stop due to the algorithms of the computer taking extra precaution. There are also other limitations on discerning objects such as trash and debris that can unnecessarily veer the vehicle. Additionally Chris Urmson of Google has said that the lidar technology cannot spot potholes or humans, such as a police officer, signaling the car to stop.
The vehicles are unable to recognize temporary traffic signals. They have not proven themselves in snow or rain. They are also unable to navigate through parking lots. Vehicles are unable to differentiate between pedestrian and policeman or between crumpled up paper and a rock. Google projects having these issues fixed by 2020.
In 2012 Google founder Sergey Brin stated that Google Self-Driving car will be available for the general public in 2017. In 2014 this schedule has been confirmed by project director Chris Urmson indicating a possible release from 2017 to 2020. While Google seems to have no plans to become a car manufacturer, the company hopes to develop a business which would market the system and the data behind it to automobile manufacturers. An attorney for the California Department of Motor Vehicles raised concerns that "The technology is ahead of the law in many areas," citing state laws that "all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle". According to The New York Times, policy makers and regulators have argued that new laws will be required if driverless vehicles are to become a reality because "the technology is now advancing so quickly that it is in danger of outstripping existing law, some of which dates back to the era of horse-drawn carriages".
Google lobbied for two bills that made Nevada the first state where autonomous vehicles can be legally operated on public roads. The first bill is an amendment to an electric vehicle bill that provides for the licensing and testing of autonomous vehicles. The second bill will provide an exemption from the ban on distracted driving to permit occupants to send text messages while sitting behind the wheel. The two bills came to a vote before the Nevada state legislature's session ended in June 2011. It has been speculated that Nevada was selected due to the Las Vegas Auto Show and the Consumer Electronics Show, and the high likelihood that Google will present the first commercially viable product at either or both of these events. Google executives, however, refused to state the precise reason they chose Nevada to be the maiden state for the autonomous car.
Nevada passed a law in June 2011 concerning the operation of autonomous cars in Nevada, which went into effect on March 1, 2012. A Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology was licensed by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in May 2012. This was the first license issue in the United States for a self-driven car. License plates issued in Nevada for autonomous cars will have a red background and feature an infinity symbol (∞) on the left side because, according to the DMV Director, "...using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the 'car of the future'." Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger's seat during tests.
In August 2013 news reports surfaced about Robo-Taxi, a driverless vehicle from Google. These reports re-appeared again in early 2014. following the granting of a patent to Google for an advertising fee funded transportation service which included autonomous vehicles as a method of transport. Paid Google consultant Larry Burns says self-driving, taxi-like vehicles "should be viewed as a new form of public transportation."
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