Project Details

A Google self-driving car

Self-driving car

Travelling in autonomous automobiles

By Google

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @google

Organisation URL:

  • Geolocation
  • Internet
  • Physical Computing

On March 1, 2012, Nevada’s law allowing self-driving cars to use its roads came into effect. Two years later, and Google’s computerised prototypes had logged 1.1m km, or 700,000 miles of driving without any human agency, beyond keying in the destination.

The applications for a car that in Google’s words, ‘shoulders the entire burden of driving’, are vast. They predict it could replace mass transit, or taxis in cities, make roads safer, eliminate crashes, and ease congestion and pollution. It could also give those with little or no mobility real freedom and autonomy for the first time. 

'I think it has the potential to be the most important safety technology that the auto industry has ever seen,’ says Ron Medford, the former deputy director for US national highway traffic safety administration. Medford is now safety director for Google’s self driving car team.

While Google has worked with Lexus, Toyota and Audi to adapt their vehicles to be driver-less, their own prototype car, 200 of which have been made, looks distinctly different from standard issue automobiles. It has no steering wheel, pedals or breaks, just two buttons, one to start, one to stop, and a computer screen displaying the route. It navigates using GPS and Google maps, drives at speed limits stored in these maps, and maintains a distance from other vehicles using light radar systems. There’s no bonnet as such, the wheels are shoved out to its edges, and there’s now soft foam where we’d expect the bumper to be, plus flexible windscreens – both representing radical advances in safety. On current versions, humans can regain control by braking or turning the wheel, as you would in contemporary cruise control systems.

These cars are also in use or being trialled in Florida, California, Michigan, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. The software is being developed by Sebastian Thrun, former director of Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and one of the inventors of Street View.

Image 'Google Self-Driving Car' courtesy of Roman Boed

Last updated: 09th of June, 2014

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