Google’s self-driving cars are trying to master the streets: some things you should know

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Chris Urmson, Director of Google?s Self-Driving Car Project, wrote in a blog post saying that the development of the said technology has entered a new stage. They are now trying to master driving on the city streets. This is by no means an easy task as the city streets are much more complex in comparison to freeways (which the cars can now reliably navigate). The city environment creates a huge challenge to these self-driving vehicles.

Google has said that its cars have, to date, driven about 700,000 accident free miles on freeways in autonomous mode. This mode means that the car is the one in control, although there is a safety driver that sits behind the wheel. With that much success, Google has been focusing their efforts on city driving instead, for the past year or so. Freeways are, compared to city streets, relatively simple for the cars. There are no blind spots or corners, no pedestrians and no cyclists. The city streets have all of those combined, including different intersections and complex interactions with drivers of other vehicles like who goes first in four-way stop signal.

In the past year, the driverless Lexus RX450H SUVs have been retrofitted with lasers, radar as well as cameras and has rapidly learned how to handle thousands of different urban driving situations. The robot?s vision can now even ?read? stop signs in comparison to before where they only relied on a map to plot them out and they can also differentiate between different objects in real time.

The technology is still in its development stage though, so it is far from perfect. Various challenges like bad weather and lane changes still need to be improved upon.

The cars are currently street driving in their hometown of Mountain View, California, where they have very detailed maps. This mapping is what helps the car?s computer make sense of everything that is going on in its environment including other cars, pedestrians and cyclists. Currently, the chances of these cars showing up in other states are still unlikely.

A question that has come up about the self-driving cars is if Google is going to invest into making cars. The answer to that is not likely as Google is looking to collaborate with major car manufacturers to improve their software much like how Google has done with the Android operating system.

Photo Source: Google blog post

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