With over 1.2 million people dying every year from traffic-related incidents worldwide, 90 per cent of which are the result of human error, Google is attempting to reinvent transit with its Self-Driving Car Project. Though the project has been in the works since 2008, the tech giant presented a new prototype on 28 May which does away with steering wheels and acceleration pedals. In a sneak-peak of their new prototype, Google uploaded a video to YouTube highlighting the experience of being driven instead of driving.
Chris Urmson, director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, noted that the project aims to reimagine the way people experience mass transit. It is his hope that the technology they are building with this project will eliminate fatalities from drinking or texting while driving, and provide alternatives for those who are no longer in possession of a driver’s licence.
“We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot programme here in California in the next couple of years,” Urmson noted. “We’re going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we’ll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely.”
Despite Google’s optimistic outlook for their innovative technology, there are roadblocks deterring the autonomous car’s presence on the street. “The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” stated senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Bernard Lu, in a New York Times article. “If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.” As of 2013, four US states along with France, Belgium, Italy, and Germany have passed laws allowing the testing of driverless vehicles on the road.
Though the proliferation of self-driving cars may not hit the road for a few years, it does promise a new way of getting around the city. “Envision those driverless vehicles [roaming] the city. Someone calls a central dispatcher, or sends an email or text message to a computer, which then identifies the nearest driverless vehicle and sends it to pick the passenger up,” noted University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes.
With the promise of up-and-coming technologies transforming daily life, Google’s prospect in autonomous vehicles presents a major shift for the future of mass transportation and individual daily commutes.