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EDN, May 26, 2011

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AUTOMOBILE BY MARGERY CONNER • TECHNICAL EDITOR G 38 EDN | MAY 26, 2011 oogle last year demonstrated the results of its research-and-development efforts to create an autonomous vehicle. The small fleet of specially equipped cars— six Toyota Priuses and one Audi TT— has logged more than 140,000 miles of daytime and nighttime driving in California, including traversing San Francisco's famously crooked Lombard Street and the Los Angeles freeways (Figure 1). In all cases, an engineer was in the driver's seat, monitoring each car's performance and ready to take over if necessary. A robocar of the future would be so intelligent that its driver would be able to read, play, or work rather than piloting the car. The benefits would include safety, freeing up the driver for other tasks or recreation, and the more effective use of the traffic infra- structure due to more efficient traffic regulation and fuel efficiency. Motor-vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of 13- to 29-year-olds in the United States. According to Sebastian Thrun, an engineer at Google and the direc- tor of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which cre- ated the Google robocar, almost all of these accidents are the result of human error rather than machine error, and he believes that machines can prevent some of these accidents. "We could change the capacity of highways by a factor of two or three if we didn't rely on human precision for staying in the lane and [instead] depended on robotic precision," says Thrun. "[We could] thereby drive a little bit closer together in a little bit narrower lanes and do away with all traffic jams on highways." Doubling highway capacity by a fac- tor of three with no added infrastruc- ture costs and freeing an hour or two a day for productive or relaxing pur- suits seem like worthy goals, but how close is the auto industry to achieving a practical self-driving car? Google is not in the car-production business and has no business plan for monetizing its research (Reference 1). In Google's approach, autonomous vehicles will not require a government mandate to become reality. The Google fleet uses LIDAR (light-detection-and-ranging) technology, such as that in a system SENSORS MAY USHER IN SELF-DRIVING CARS IMAGE: ISTOCK

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