Just over a year ago, Google announced that they had strayed away from their driverless Lexus and Prius platforms and had decided to create their very own automous car. After an extended period of track testing and some small modifications, the Google self-driving car has now been let loose on the roads of California.
The latest iteration of the Google car, which deliberately resembles something from a children's cartoon, uses a complex combination of sensors, teamed with highly accurate digital maps and GPS to pinpoint exactly where it is. A system of radar, lasers and cameras is then employed to allow the car to monitor its surroundings whilst moving around.
An intricate new piece of software analyses all of the external data that is fed into the car and can recognise objects such as people, cars, road markings, signs and traffic lights; subsequently allowing the car to obey all the rules of the road and to avoid any unpredictable hazards.
If you are one of the people sharing the road with this strange new creature, you may find yourself asking how safe can something like the Google driverless car really be? Google say that it's incredibly safe, in fact; they say that over six years they've racked up over 700,000 miles worth of autonomous driving on the streets of California; during this time there have been 14 collisions – none of which were their fault.
Even if the Google car does get into a spot of bother, it's been designed with safety in mind and features a flexible windscreen and foam bumper; both features that have been designed to absorb as much energy as possible should the car hit something or someone.
If you saw the first drive video of the Google car last year, you will have noticed that the interior lacked everything other than a big red 'Emergency Stop' button and an interactive screen; in order to make the car road legal, it now features a removable steering wheel and the pedals you'd expect to find in a normal car.
Google's vision for the driverless car isn't to replace driving as we know and love it, instead they see these cars as a replacement for shared vehicles such as Taxis; the Integration of a feature that allows you to summon the car from your smartphone reinforces this vision. With their very own creation now taking to the streets of California, it would seem that Google are now one step closer to the iRobot-esque future that they have imagined.