After hundreds of thousands of miles of testing, re-testing, compiling, and data-mining, the results are in. Google’s autonomous cars are not only better drivers than you are, they’re better than trained professionals. “We’re spending less time in near-collision states,” explains Chris Urmson, head of Google’s leads self-driving “robot car” programs and professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “Our car is driving more smoothly and more safely than (even) our trained, professional drivers.”
A number of automakers would have you believe that autonomous cars are further away than we might think, but Urmson says it’s the lobbyists, law-makers, and automakers themselves who are holding the technology back. The technology, he seems to say, is already there. According to MIT’s Technology Review, one view of Google’s data showed that “when a human was behind the wheel, Google’s cars accelerated and braked significantly more sharply than they did when piloting themselves. Another showed that the cars’ software was much better at maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle ahead than the human drivers were.”
After spending a few days in New England this month, going 70 in a 50 and getting passed like I was standing still by the locals, I am positively convinced that Google’s robot cars are, in fact, better at maintaining safe distances than the human drivers!
To hear Google’s people talk, it looks like the biggest obstacles to a robot car future really are things like liability, social acceptance, and the automakers’ willingness to build such a thing … not that I’d ever buy one, of course. I just hope the rest of you do.