December 19, 2016
Google has made a lot of progress with driving technology over the past Eight years, it was then a secret project within Google X, and now Google self-driving car project is Waymo. After eight years and 2 million miles, Google is taking its self-driving car project out of X, its division dedicated to moonshots like internet-slinging balloons, delivery drones and many more.
Google has been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving. Just imagine: you can take a trip at lunchtime without a 15 minute buffer to find parking. Seniors and visually impaired can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And don’t ask about drunk and distracted drivers.
These are the vehicles, that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button, and a screen that shows the route, could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing Deaths from traffic accidents – over 1.2 million worldwide every year caused by human error (94 percent of accidents in the U.S.), reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car.
This started with the most important thing: safety. They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections. And capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph. According to Waymo, the car has completed the world’s first fully driverless ride on public roads last year in Austin, Texas, with a blind passenger in a car without a steering wheel or pedals.
The project team has equipped a number of different types of cars with the self-driving equipment, including the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h. Google has also developed their own custom vehicle, which is assembled by Roush Enterprises. These robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 LIDAR system – a unit on the top like spinning KFC bucket on the roof. The range finder is mounted on the top with a Velodyne 64-beam laser, generates a detailed 3D map of the environment. This laser allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its surroundings. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself, while avoiding obstacles and respecting traffic laws.
The vehicle also carries other sensors, which include:
Four Radars – mounted on the front and rear bumpers, that allow the car to see far enough to be able to deal with fast traffic on freeways,
A Camera – positioned near the rear-view mirror, that detects traffic lights,
A GPS – that determine the vehicle’s location
In August 2016, their cars traveled a total of 170,000 miles; of those, 126,000 miles were driven autonomously (i.e. the car was fully in control), equivalent of more than 400 round-trip drives from New York to Los Angeles, driving in city traffic, busy highways, and mountainous roads with only occasional human intervention.
Google is now partnering with automakers with a view to launch an autonomous ride-sharing service by the end of next year. Google and Fiat Chrysler have officially announced that they’re teaming up to build Pacifica minivans with plug-in hybrid drivetrains that will become part of Google’s growing fleet of self-driving test vehicles.
The vehicle has difficulty identifying when objects, such as trash and light debris, are harmless, causing the vehicle to veer unnecessarily. Additionally, the LIDAR technology cannot spot some potholes or discern when humans, such as a police officer, are signaling the car to stop. Google projects having these issues fixed by 2020. The project is still far from becoming commercially viable, but Google has set up a demonstration system on its campus, using driverless golf carts, which points to how the technology could change transportation even in the near future with a lower price.
Waymo needs to prove its self-driving system works in every situation, then get the public. Advancements in sensor technology along with machine learning improved the ability of computers to learn from vast amounts of data and improve over time and Waymo could become a regular sight on the roads over the next few years.
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