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Google’s Self-Driving Cars: Where Will They Take Us?
A Google car can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can’t—and it never gets tired or distracted!
By Judith Pfeffer - Filed May 30, 2014

More Design and Development stories
My brother-in-law, the muscle-car maven, would call this tiny, rounded auto the ultimate "pregnant rollerskate."

Atlantic Magazine is calling it "adorable" and speculating on whether Google's motives for developing it are somehow nefarious.

Google, for its part, apparently views it as reinventing the wheel, a revolution on wheels – but one which doesn't actually involve what we now know as the steering wheel. Or the gas pedal. Or the brake. You get the idea. There's just an on switch and an off switch. Talk about simple-but-elegant design.

The overall implications of a future with primarily self-driving cars -- for technology, the economy, highway safety, day-to-day lifestyle and even ethics -- are enormous. And no one really knows what they will be, even if they claim to.

As far as technical specifications, the authority is Chris Urmson, a presenter at last year's annual RoboBusiness conference and former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist.

Director of the Self-Driving-Car-Project at Google, he's hoping to have at least 100 of the cute little cars built and being tested later this year.

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These tiny cars are brand-new – until a few weeks ago, Google was retrofitting standard automobiles with its gadgetry -- but he's an old hand at this.

Urmson was technical director of the driverless-car team that won the 2007 annual challenge from DARPA, according to The Economist. His team's "main advantage over its rivals was that it had mapped the course in fine detail, something that his current employers are busy doing for the rest of the planet."

"A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can't—and it never gets tired or distracted," he said in a blog post.

Urmson said the new cars already have been tested extensively on streets surrounding the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

"As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer."

The New York Times notes that the vehicles will have electronic sensors that can see about 600 feet in all directions. They will have rear-view mirrors only because these are required by California's vehicle code, Urmson said. The front of the car is of a foamlike material, its windshield likewise softer than normal.

To read the full story on Robotics Business Review, click here.

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