By Andrew Raven
The first time Dan Edmunds jumped inside one of Google's self-driving cars, the experience was surreal. The tiny two-seater-which looked a lot like an oversized lima bean-had no steering wheel, no brakes and no accelerator pedal.
"It felt like being on a carnival ride," said Edmunds, the director of vehicle testing at Edmunds.com. "It was something 'other.'"
Google's self-driving cars have been causing a stir since being unveiled in 2009. Backers say they could revolutionize the way people get from A to B by reducing accidents, speeding up traffic and giving freedom to those with disabilities. Edmunds, who tested two Google vehicles in and around the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, saw some of that promise. "It's still early days [but] the Google cars were really impressive," he said.
The company has two main types of self-driving rides: specially modified Lexus SUVs and what it calls its "prototype," a pod-shaped electric car built from the ground up by Google engineers. The cars use sophisticated sensors-including what was a reportedly $70,000
laser-to "see" the world around them.
But the real genius is in the software, which interprets the data and tells the car what to do. The system is so advanced that during Edmunds's test ride, it was able to recognize a stop sign held up by a crossing guard and come to a halt. Once the guard lowered the sign, the vehicle-one of the modified SUVs-drove off again.
Edmunds said the car navigated the streets of Mountain View like a pro and that he never felt the urge to grab the wheel, though, at times, the ride was almost too conservative. At one intersection, the car stayed put for 90 seconds fearing it would get boxed in by traffic ahead; meanwhile, several human-controlled vehicles passed by. "I wanted to say, 'You can go now,'" recalls Edmunds. "Any human would have done it."
Google's emphasis on safety does seem to be paying off. During 1.8 million miles of road testing the company says its self-driving cars have never caused an accident though they have been rear-ended and side-swiped several times by human-controlled vehicles.
So, are these vehicles the way of the future? Edmunds isn't sure. They need incredibly precise road maps in order to operate-diagrams that are much more detailed than Google's Street View-and charting every inch of road in the country will be a challenge. "I can see these cars being used on a campus... or in some large cities," he said. "But they don't seem like something that you'll be able to hop into and say 'Take me skiing in Utah.'"
Car technology is getting smarter by the day, and passenger safety is a top priority. To learn more about what you can expect, read our Future of Car Safety
Are you interested in boosting your career, personal development, networking, and giving back? If so, WITI is the place for you! Become a WITI Member and receive exclusive access to attend our WITI members-only events, webinars, online coaching circles, find mentorship opportunities (become a mentor; find a mentor), and more!
Founded in 1989, WITI (Women in Technology International) is committed to empowering innovators, inspiring future generations and building inclusive cultures, worldwide. WITI is redefining the way women and men collaborate to drive innovation and business growth and is helping corporate partners create and foster gender inclusive cultures. A leading authority of women in technology and business, WITI has been advocating and recognizing women's contributions in the industry for more than 30 years.
The organization delivers leading edge programs and platforms for individuals and companies -- designed to empower professionals, boost competitiveness and cultivate partnerships, globally. WITIâ€™s ecosystem includes more than a million professionals, 60 networks and 300 partners, worldwide.
Inspire Future Generations.
Build Inclusive Cultures.
As Part of That Mission WITI Is Committed to
Building Your Network.
Building Your Brand.
Advancing Your Career.