“Unnerving” is the word Forbes’ Detroit bureau chief chose to describe her trip in one of Google’s (GOOG) famous driverless cars, and we can’t blame her. In a recent article, Joann Muller detailed her ride-along in a driverless car with Google’s Chris Urmson, head of the team currently tasked with building the systems that may guide automobiles of the future. While the $65,000 laser sensor on the roof and the $35,000 worth of additional technology packed into Google’s driverless cars is remarkably advanced, it apparently isn’t easy to trust a computer to respond to all of the crazy things human drivers do behind the wheel.
Muller’s account paints an interesting picture that Google hopes we all experience in the near future. But although Google’s self-driving cars have yet to be involved in a single accident while under the control of a computer, Urmson says there is still much work to be done. For example, driverless cars can’t handle heavy rain or snow-covered roads because “the appearance and shape of the world changes. It can’t figure out where to go or what to do.”
“Urmson was explaining to me that the ‘brains’ of the whole system are stored in a laptop-sized computer stashed in the rear of the vehicle when suddenly a car in the next lane drifted across the lane marker as the driver fumbled to reach his hat on the passenger seat,” Muller wrote while describing the nerve-rattling experience. “Our Lexus automatically slowed, waiting to make sure the distracted driver recovered. Urmson just kept talking and waving his arms. I looked over at the steering wheel, which was moving ever so slightly to stay within the lane markers. If I didn’t know better, I’d say a ghost was driving.”
Despite the fact that we might be years away from seeing self-driving cars become available to consumers, there are already clear benefits to the technology. “An exciting moment for Google engineers came one day when the autonomous car slowed suddenly on a city street when there was no traffic ahead of it,” Muller wrote. “The engineers didn’t know why, until a pedestrian emerged from between two parked cars. The engineers hadn’t seen him.”
Muller’s full account can be read through the source link below.