Google’s Autonomous Vehicle ‘Drives’ Blind Passengers Around Town On Daily Errands

Google’s Autonomous Vehicle ‘Drives’ Blind Passengers Around Town On Daily Errands

Google's self-driving will not only help the disabled but save 2.4 billion gallons of gasoline as well.

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
  • 21 april 2012

Google recently gave YouTube viewers a glimpse of the future with a video that showed an almost totally blind person behind the wheel of one of its self-driving cars. The capstone to a two year old project started in 2010, the automated car uses both radar and laser sensors to detect its immediate surroundings and make decisions with regard to every aspect of driving. Though Google hasn’t indicated the full-extent of the vehicle’s capabilities and limitations, the self-driving automobile has now completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led highway driving and now, as demonstrated in the video below, successfully navigated an urban environment while running errands to places like Taco Bell and the dry cleaners, passengers in tow.

While Google’s demonstration followed a pre-planned route, it pointed to the potential of autonomous vehicles to one day work without extensive preparation, giving independence back to individuals with disabilities that make driving difficult. But beyond that, assisting the disabled, the innovation has cost-reducing implications for both individuals and governments with the opportunity to scale. For instance, the technology could help increase the capacity and efficiency of existing roadways by enabling cars to drive closer together without incident.  It could also lead to automating more efficient travel routes, effectively decongesting urban arteries, while cutting back on CO2 emissions and the amount of money spent on gasoline in the process. Sebastian Thrun, the project’s lead at Google, estimates that the car could save Americans 4 billion hours of wasted time and 2.4 billion gallons of gasoline.

For governments, the data collected from a fleet of automated cars could lead to sober assessment of future investments in infrastructure. Provided a comprehensive view of the bandwidth of roads in their cities, planners could gain insight into where congestion is manmade and where new construction is needed. As cities trend towards growing in population, this data could also help planners anticipate the requirements of more people sharing space and provide quantitative data in support of their proposals, as well as call out infrastructure fallen into disuse and therefore requiring less attention.

While this technology presents many opportunities,  the individual story should not be lost in the discussion. In the words of disabled driver Steve Mahan:

Where this would change my life would be to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go, when I need to do those things.

Check out the video below:


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