EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 7, 2012

Self-driving cars approaching fast -- and safely


Transportation officials and safety regulators are pushing the technology even further, looking to a day when computers in a car communicate with other vehicles, traffic lights, toll roads and other traffic infrastructure.

Last month, about 3,000 vehicles equipped to share information about their speed and location hit the streets in Ann Arbor, Mich., as part of the largest road test to date of so-called connected vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which is running the test in conjunction with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, says the test is an early step in developing a system that will enable cars to work with one another to figure out routes and traffic space to save time and fuel and increase safety.

Google believes that despite any mishaps with autonomous features working their way into vehicles now, completely self-driving vehicles will be safer and more convenient than cars driven by humans.

“Look at all the people who don’t have access to transportation today but still need to live their lives,” said Anthony Levandowski, head of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project.

“There is a lot of opportunities for making cars safer, more convenient and more accessible,” Levandowski said. “The fact that you have to drive your car all the time is kind of a bug in the car itself.”

Texting, for example, becomes safe when the car drives itself.

Google ran a trial with a blind person who usually spends two hours on public transit to go to work. Google’s experimental self-driving Prius — with a licensed driver at the controls for backup — was able to drive the person to work in just 30 minutes.

Brin believes such cars could provide transport to blind people who can’t drive or other individuals who shouldn’t drive.

“Some people have other disabilities, some people are too young, some people are too old, sometimes we’re too intoxicated,” Brin said.

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