back to article Google robo cars drive selves on public streets

Google has built a fleet of cars that drive themselves, and over the past several months, these robotic vehicles have driven over 140,000 miles on public roads, from the Pacific Coast Highway to the famous twists and turns of San Francisco's Lombard Street. As the company revealed on Saturday morning with a blog post, each car …


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  1. J Lewter

    So now we know why they "Gmaped" us

    Not sure if we should be worried here or not..

    I have no doubt this will be made into a movie in 10 years and they will receive the credit for self-driving cars... I mean.. before Greenspan(I mean Zuckerberg) was around there never existed social networking.. So I am sure that the idea of self driving cars has never happened..

    There is one upside tho.. If cars start driving themselves they can provide calibration data on roads and maps should become a lot more precise.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Easier, cheaper way

    "Our goal is to ... reduce carbon emissions"

    There's a much cheaper, easier way to do that: Implement some half decent economy/efficiency standards for American cars. But that's never gonna happen as American politics is controlled by the oil business, not the green lobby.

    If you are feeling *really* brave, you could even persuade Americans that they don't need to use a car to do everything.

  3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Dog food

    "they navigate using maps previously collected by cars that were driven by good old fashioned human beings."

    So they don't even trust their own Maps website ?

  4. Christoph Silver badge

    How good are they so far?

    The important point is how often do the emergency drivers have to take over, and in what circumstances? That eight year figure implies there's still a lot of problems.

    The really difficult bit will come when they are better than humans in most circumstances. You might find that they would reduce accidents overall, but fail in a few rare circumstances where a human could have coped. Do you then deploy them? And what is the legal position for the victims of those rare accidents? It could get very messy, especially with US lawyers involved.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      @ J Lewter

      Oh dear... You do realise that movies aren't there to tell the truth? They're there to entertain, though no doubt some people will believe the Zuckerberg story like they believe Saving Private Ryan... then there's those who believe in Twilight... ;-)

      1. skeptical i

        So _Zombieland_ is /not/ a documentary on the history of religious fundamentalism?

        Damn, I was lied to.

        <-- Beat 'em or burn 'em, they go up pretty quick.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      @ A Non e-mouse

      [the "you" is generic, not YOU specifically]

      Actually, you don't need to use a car to do everything. You can't open a can of catfood with a car (well, maybe you COULD slam it in a door a few times, but that seems a somewhat messy solution). On the other hand, you do need your car to drive the five miles to the shop. And because your kitty is fussy, you'll need your car to drive the few hundred metres to the next shop, which will no doubt involve fencing and awkward junctions and weird routing systems turning a two minute *WALK* into ten minutes by car. And don't forget, it's the oil lobby at work here - so there is a REASON why you spend forever at red lights. It isn't your safety in mind, it's to get you to use your fuel doing nothing at all. And since you're in town, you might as well stop at a burger joint for a refill of your own, it isn't as if three hundred and eighty stone is overweight or anything. This is why you drive a Chrysler. One of those trashy cheap European jokes would crumple in the middle if you tried to get into one. This is, of course, assuming you can find one big enough. What's with that "Smart" car? Not so Smart is it, your kid plays with one that's bigger...


      For the tl:dr crowd: This eccentric post can be summed up as "American mindset" == "cars" != "doing something without the four-wheeled buddy".

    3. mafoo


      Heaven forbid they walk 4 blocks or take public transport.

      Or maybe they reduce the Carbon emissions by removing the humans that output so much methane and CO2, as well as reducing the fuel efficiency by carrying less load.

      Even better, why not give the robo-cars micro nuclear reactors. for zero carbon emissons. That could offset the machine guns... oh wait - thats terminator.

    4. Charles Manning

      New stuff == litigation

      It does not matter whether these are better or not. Even if they reduce collisions by 90% and only fail when a human would have failed, there will always be room for weasels to use this for litigation.

      Our society is extremely scared of many new things. Thank goodness the really important stuff: knives, fire and such, were invented while common sense still prevailed.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        We NEED litigation

        When the machines rise, you'll be sorry you let them get away with so much.

      2. robin48gx

        evidence to support robot driver, camera footage

        They will probably have several camera mounted on them.

        Thus most collisions will be filmed.

        So if someone runs out directly into the path of a 40mph car

        and gets killed, or a drunk human causes a collision, there

        will be evidence that the robot was not at fault.

    5. westlake

      Who do you trust?

      >>So they don't even trust their own Maps website ?<<

      How reliable is the map?

      Does the map know that the underpass up ahead is flooded? That traffic is being re-routed because of an accident or construction work?

      Can the map "see" the blind intersection ahead? The expressway ramp that abrupty terminates and may not give you enough time to merge?

      Taking manual control of the car in an emergency demands hat you remain alert enough to recognize a problem and are able to respond to it in time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Does this mean that you tail-gate too?

        The best thing about the automated cars is that they maintain separation. In this case there's no problem with short expressway ramps because they're always be room to merge....Unlike here in Atlanta.

    6. ratfox Silver badge

      Americans need cars

      They could and should have better standards, but the way their towns are built, they DO need a car to do anything, unless they live in a large city.

    7. yeehaw.... Silver badge

      You euros have no clue about America, do you?

      Let's start with geography and history.

      Europe has been populated since God was a little boy and because of that, there are towns everywhere within 5 to 10 kicks of each other (or let's say a days' walk back in the day - the day? "he must be a King, cuz he's not covered in shit like us") . Each euro town (seems from this American POV) is self-contained - Food, restaurant, bar(s), various repair shops, etc. Not so in your american towns, at least not anymore due to the Walmart Effect. American towns are further apart, probably due to horse transportation and wagon travel being faster and covering more distance in a day compared to walking during the founding and expansion of the US. There are changes with distances between the east coast and west coast as well as huge differences between the "fly-over" states. In Arizona I had to drive 45 miles to the nearest food store, in Tennessee only about 7. The east coast (orig. 13 colonies - think of that) probably closest compare to the euro set up with towns/cities layout.

      Bottom line it's not easy to "not use a car for everything" in the US. I'd rather ride my horse to work but there is no parking anywhere so I drive a little 4banger GMC Canyon (want a Ford Fusion- mpg up to 35-36 hwy). Side note: How come they can't build another Geo Metro? Had ac, would do 120MPH (shake you to death hehe), and got 48-50mpg without a damn thing tecchy about it? Better than a freaking Prius without all the baggage? Answer me that.

      Moving on.

      "never gonna happen as American politics is controlled by the oil business"

      Personally I'm still waiting for cheap fuel from the "Blood for Oil" war..... (love the Brits for perfecting the use of understatement).

      American politics are a bigger joke here to us than anyone could possibly claim from the outside. You cannot trust them, they have not a clue what it means to live within your means, and there is not ONE of them I would let babysit my kids unsupervised. That tell you something? They exempted themselves from Obamacare..... if it;s good enough for the goose, it's good enough for the gander - tells you something else about Obamacare doesn't it? Fun Fact: When elected, a US politician may have made $70-$100k a year previously as lawyers 99% of the time, but yet when they finally retire or get voted out, they are worth millions? What the FUCK is wrong with that picture?


      I am an American, in the older sense of the term. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe any and every person has the means to provide for themselves within themselves and not be 'entitled' to be provided for by any government. The crap about our immigration and things 'americans won't do' is crap. It is not beneath anyone to dig a ditch (I have and probably will again) for pay, but as long as the gov handicaps people by giving them the means to actually sit in gov housing, watch tv, and get fatter than hell, that won't change. I am not elite, I am a guy with a wife and kids. A week and a half ago I was laid off from a company where I was allegedly CTO (lying bastards! Screwed again with about $10k worth of time unaccounted for- we'll see about that lol). Yet after a week of going WTF? I am just going to fire up my own business again so I'll never be in that position again.

      The Story: Yes, good and fine for densely-packed places like that but won't be sensible for the rest of the states. I wouldn't care if the car drove itself, be pretty cool to sleep on the way to an appointment with a client lol. Wouldn't mind a bit.

    8. Anonymous Coward

      you're kidding, right?

      the top standards for american cars are already so strict that they leave the air purer than it was when the car gets there. of course you're assuming that co2 is a pollutant, which is something of a silly idea to say the least... cafe standards don't currently cover that. i don't personally feel they should, either, as there is no actual, experimentally comfirmed linkage between world climate and human co2 emissions, but merely a somewhat shaky correlation that breaks if you look further back than a few hundred years.

      1. JohnG Silver badge

        Re: you're kidding, right?

        The snag with the strict emission controls implemented in the USA is that they are only concerned with PERCENTAGE emissions and not volume. The emissions of a 4 or 5 litre engine may look good when viewed in percentage terms but when you consider emission as volume per mile driven, the results are not as good.

      Thumb Up

      Easier, cheaper way

      To take this to its logical extreme, if the cars drive themselves, then performance from one car to another wouldn't matter, right? From a consumers standpoint, then performance becomes a non-issue. As would safety.

      If that leads to the demise of the Hummer type car culture, then great, and it *would* actually result in lower emissions.

      In a democracy it's kinda hard to get people to do what's collectively good if it goes against individual desires.

    10. Anonymous Coward

      @A Non e-mouse

      American car's economy and efficiency figures have soared in recent years. Don't forget as well that they're using a weird-ass smaller colonial Gallon rather than the proper British one so a car that gets 40mpg in the US is doing 48mp_imperial_gallon.

      Also, with a billion and one cars in the USA already you'd find it really hard to make a significant impact. If you mandated- and recinded the relevant patents to allow people to build- 200mpg cars now you'd have absolutely frack all impact because everyone's already got a car and that car will continue to be used for a long long time.


      You spend so much time stopped at red lights because the other lights are letting people through in the other direction.

      Anyway, if the Oil lobby wanted to kick up their money that much they'd just buy a tyre company and have it make really cheap, decent-quality tyres that last for ages- but seriously screw up your fuel economy. Then get Ford and GM to fit these tyres. No-one would ever notice and it's cause a surprising amount of extra fuel usage.

      I think you'll find that they're in favour of hydrocarbon saving measures. They're already rich, and a lowered market price caused by slackened demand discourages newstarts- so they get a bigger slice of a pie that's only marginally smaller. Plus it gets them a load of good PR AND it means there's less incentive to go all electric (so for a tiny loss they save the bulk of their income).

      This is what's wrong with the Green Lobby. It's just yet another marketing lead, moneygrabbing tool for big business- and one that does more harm than good for the environmentalist cause. Engineers will naturally improve their designs and build faster, more reliable and more efficient cars; it's in our nature to do this. The last thing we need is a green lobby pissing us about and getting our bosses to shove us up a technological dead end like Hydrogen cars (unsafe, bulky, heavy and will lead to our cars being more clamped down and less customisable) or Lithium-battery electrics (which need Lithium. Which is in short supply already- and would mean all the money goes to China).

      Oh, and well done Google for making these cars. Well, if the drivers are rarely needed.

    11. Monty Cantsin

      RE: How good are they so far?

      Another article I read on this said that the driver had to override the autodrive twice over the course of the tests. Once for a cyclist that ran a red light, and once for a vehicle in front that started to reverse into a parking space.

      1. ian 22
        Thumb Up

        A tight leash?

        Glad to hear they prevent it from lunging at passers-by.

    12. Skymonrie

      Let's hope

      They weren't programmed on machines subject to StuxNet!

      In an amusing but bemusing moment of thought this morning, we are actually so close to what could be the dawn of something like Skynet.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    The police in Britain have obviously been using this for years

  6. Sampler

    Sounds similar

    Didn't i just read how Google directory services was used to collate voice data to improve voice search services - now Google maps street view is actually for Android Car (or Chrome Car if you prefer).

    What's next - Goggles is actually a trial and collate for Google attack drones....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing that new here...

    Actually this is a pretty mature technology, so I doubt there's many problems at all. Various car manufacturers have came up with prototype driverless cars that have done hundreds of miles without human assistance in busy traffic since the 90s. The only issues are the social problems people would have with the idea, and the eight years probably relates to working around regulations.

    And the whole argument about US cars being inefficient is incredibly outdated. For one, more Americans than ever are buying Japanese and European cars precisely due to their improved efficiency, and American manufacturers have been trying desperately to catch up for years now, and making some degree of headway. Increasing oil prices and global recession exist in the US as well as the rest of the world.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Not mature technology at all

      Driverless cars in what sense? There are varying levels of sophistication and difficulty involved here. I remember seeing stories about automated cars driving in California in the 90s but they could only follow a specially embedded magnetic strip in a road. I saw one story about a car that could drive straight, in one lane on the highway in the early 2000s because of some new computer vision software that was able to reliably discern the edges of its lane.

      What Google is doing here is some next-level stuff. If their cars are driving on public roads during the day then they have some crazy advanced software going on--obstacle/hazard avoidance, obeying traffic laws e.g. recognizing the state of stoplights and behaving appropriately, handling 4-way stops, etc. Very very advanced. Hardly mature at all.

      1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Stanford Uni is doing this stuff in an Audi TTS

        The automated Pikes Peak challenge is showing some promise too. The unmanned Audi TTS is even capable of drifts and slides (which it will have to if it is to make it up :-).

        I don't think Google is next-level. I think Google is me-too. And the aim is clear: if you no longer have to drive, you can watch ads, or listen to them. You didn't think they'd forgotten about the evil moneymaking thing, did you?

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Repeating myself

        Again, it's not next level stuff. I described in my original post the kind of driving the earlier prototypes were capable of - that is, driving unassisted in regular roads and traffic, not following a magnetic strip or driving in a straight line - basically exactly the same as Google are doing here. Again, the issues aren't technological, they're social and legal.

        I'm not using a Wikipedia link as some sort of verification or evidence here, but simply because I'm too lazy to explain further and it's a reasonable summary of the kind of work that has gone on long before this.

        1. AndyS

          From the article you posted:

          "The car achieved speeds exceeding 175 km/h on the German Autobahn, with a mean distance between human interventions of 9 km."

          While very impressive, it could not cope in driverless mode in unexpected conditions, and is far from mature. Just because early prototypes existed 15 years ago doesn't mean the technology is mature. And yes, it could overtake, but only with approval from the driver, on a motorway.

          As others have said, and despite what you want to believe, this is next level stuff, and is cutting edge, new and exciting technology. If you disagree, maybe you should go back to reading science fiction novels.

    2. Chemist

      "this is a pretty mature technology,"

      So it's capable of overtaking on non-dual carriageway roads ? Capable of spotting that the truck crawling in front is doing so because it's in a line of slow traffic so don't overtake. Capable of spotting the emergency signs have suddenly closed off the outside lane. Capable of dealing with mad drivers. I could go on - this will take years to ever be safe if it ever happens.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        "So it's capable of overtaking on non-dual carriageway roads ? Capable of spotting that the truck crawling in front is doing so because it's in a line of slow traffic so don't overtake. Capable of spotting the emergency signs have suddenly closed off the outside lane. Capable of dealing with mad drivers."

        Yes. It is. SIgh.

        1. AndyS

          Re: Ugh

          "...with a mean distance between human interventions of 9 km."

          No. It's not. Sigh.

  8. mittfh

    Streetview 2020...

    Why hire drivers to update the Streetview footage when the cars can go out and collect the images (not to mention slurp any unprotected WiFi networks) themselves without a human behind the wheel?!

    But it does beg the question: who picks up the fine if a self-driven car gets snapped by a GATSO? :)

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Skynet takes one step closer

    Today, cars, tomorrow, the world!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    missing the obvious return for google

    ... more time for the driver to spend on google and youtube!

  11. Chad H.


    Do these Robocars have an "I'm feeling lucky" button?

  12. Cunningly Linguistic

    I can see...

    ...Apple submitting a patent for this and calling it an iDriver.

  13. NullReference Exception

    Why it's still eight years away

    So how do these systems respond in an upredictable emergency situation? What happens if the car in the lane next to you has a tire blowout and abruptly swerves into your lane, or a car going the other way loses control and spins out across the median into oncoming traffic, or a poorly-secured ladder flies off the back of a plumbing truck and everyone scatters every which way trying to avoid it? (Note that since this stuff can be caused by mechanical failure, it will still be a concern even after Google has taken all the bad drivers off the roads and replaced them with computers.) What happens when there is no safety driver?

    Actually, come to think of it, figuring out a way to test this sort of thing would be rather fun...

    1. Peter Ford

      No different to any other driver

      I suspect it will react about as well as any othe car on the road at the time of such incidents, and crash.

      Remember, the average level of competence of drivers is only just good enough to avoid carnage, and almost everyone is worse at handling these scenarios than they think they are...

      Certainly a driverless car isn't going to be any worse than average.

    2. BorkedAgain

      The way most people drive...

      ...Probably the same as happens now.

    3. Naughtyhorse

      What happens if the car in the lane next to you has a tire blowout??

      exactly the same as if there was a 1/2 asleep meat driver at the wheel... a wreck usually.

      2 vehicle accidents happen as, well accidents

      40 car pileups on the other hand....

      Im sure in 20 or so years we'll all be as blase about them as we are about tintenet these days;

      access to a 100 gusquillion facts (some of which may be true) at the touch of a button. no problem.

      car that drives me to work? woo hoo, an extra 45 minute lie-in

      1. Daniel 1

        Actually, one of the Google cars has been in an RTA

        It was driven into the back-of, while waiting at a red light - presumably by a normal car,driven by a human. Read into that what you will.

  14. Robert Hill
    Black Helicopters

    It's now obvious...

    The name in the movie was wrong, but the effect will be the same:

    Google == Skynet!!!

  15. Dave Murray

    Money making plans

    No doubt they plan to show adverts on a monitor in the car to make your 52 minute commute more productive.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    A lot less dangerous than new parents driving

    How parents of young kids, their brains frazzled from lack of sleep, are allowed to drive, I'll never know.

  17. Mark 65 Silver badge


    "Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use,"

    What's the World coming to when people feel there is time needed to be freed up when they're behind the wheel? Need the time to update your Facebook profile, touch up makeup, read paper etc etc? How about these people that feel this sort of thing is necessary use public transport and stay the f*ck off of the roads.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Not ideal

    If I want something to drive me, I'll take a bus or cab. This thing requires I still pay attention without actually driving. It'd be great for motorways, and some of the tech would be good as an aid to drivers... but overall, not something I'd like.

    I generally prefer to take the subway/walk. A lot of places aren't built for that, though, and there will always be out of the way areas. Especially in the US. People love their cars... I've seen residential areas there without any pedestrian paths, which just seems ridiculous.

  19. bexley

    please spend the money on a cleaner, renewable energy source...

    ...not robocar's prioritise google.

    If all these companies would just get on with replacing the combistion engine with something a bit more 21st century and deal with the idea of robocars later, the world would be a better place.

    saying that, although i usually enjoy driving, anyone who has dirven from london to scotland a couple of times will apreciate being ablwe to hand over to the robocar while they settle down with a book in the back

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Yawn !!!!

    I remember seeing stuff like this on the old bbc science program years ago - albeit on racetracks ... still don't have my hoverboard though, I blame you McFly ...


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