The program by developed Google allows a "driver" to check email and talk on a cell phone on the go, without being a fender-bender: the car drives on autopilot. But still sleeping is not allowed: the system warns you when the situation should be taken under a human control.
The correspondent of The Wall Street Journal ran through a 101 Route with Chris Urmson, a Google programmer-developer of the autopilot. The Lexus braked when it was undercut by the Audi, passed it back and continued his way clear of the reckless driver. Lexus was driven by robot. Urmson did not even touch the wheel: "It’s surprisingly natural".
Google has been developing programs for car-robots since 2009, and the corporation expects that the technologies proposed will completely change the usual way of movement, will reduce the number of car accidents and will help to cope with traffic jams.
To be able to drive without human intervention, the car was equipped with various electronics. On the roof of the Lexus a laser was mounted, a rotating mirror of which produces 1.5 million rays per second, scanning objects at distances up to 230 feet (70 meters) in all directions. Adaptive cruise control, which tracks the movements at a distance of more than 650 feet (200 meters) away from the car, is positioned on the front grille. The camera on the windscreen records the traffic lights, road signs and barriers.
The incoming information from these sensors is analyzed in accordance with the specified algorithm. So the picture of what is happening is built around the car, which is related to some external sources of information, such as road repairs. The car is also equipped with GPS navigation and Google maps.
An automated "planning system" calculates the route and starts the "control system" that runs the throttle, brakes and steering. The program is controlled by a small Intel Sore i7Quad computer, which is built under the trunk.
There is a small monitor at the panel board of the Lexus, which shows white spots symbolizing the cars that are riding alongside. They move across the screen: Google tracks every maneuver, made by neighbor cars.
Just like Google ranks websites based on the user's interests, the autopilot is constantly assessing for what the objects the car should follow particularly closely. The program is designed so that the car obeys traffic rules and avoids falling in the "blind spot" of other drivers.
"Its value is that it is safe and allows you doing anything you want," such as making phone calls and writing e-mails, Urmson says. But what if the robot tells you to take control of the machine and you are not ready? According Urmson, the Google team is just working on it. The company has equipped the inside of the car with cameras that watch what the driver is doing. If the driver begins to turn the wheel, press the pedal or the big red button between the front seats, the automatic mode is canceled.
Soon we had an opportunity to test it by ourselves. Two loud bells rang, and the computer female voice warned that the automatic driving was off. On the monitor the following phrase highlighted: "Take control now".
If you do not seize the robot control, the car slows down and stops, explains Urmson. "The car saw something that it did not like," – says the programmer. Urmson pulled off the highway and stopped at a gas station to call colleagues in the nearby office and asked what to do next. A colleague from the remote restarted the autopilot.
According Urmson, the autopilot stopped receiving data from a laser on the roof at some point. While there are tests, the robot will pass control to the human avoiding risky actions.
After a few minutes the computer again lost the laser data, and Urmson took the control.
It is far from being totally. The autopilot is poorly functioning, when it's rain or snow: in bad weather sensors hardly detect marks on the road, recognize the trees and place of reconstruction works.
Urmson was showing the program to drive the car on the highway, rather than the full version, which includes driving on city streets. When he was asked about when the work would be complete on the new technology, Urmson said: "When it will be safe and secure enough to trust her people."
This post is written by Katerina, a tech writer from Intellectsoft, a mobile development company. To find out more about us and our services, check here or follow us on Twitter.