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Autonomous Car in California

The Google Autonomous Car is the world’s first self-driving vehicle to hit the roads. These Google vehicles have already trekked 300,000 miles, 50,000 without human intervention.

Background

The car has a large amount of complex parts. On the roof of the vehicle lies a 64-beam laser which scans its surrounding, makes a 3D map of what it sees, and from that creates routes to avoid obstacles. This same technology allows the Google car the ability to obey speed limits, follow traffic signals accordingly, and yield to others—or to be aggressive if you so choose. Yet the car doesn’t have to call all the shots behind the wheel: one simply has to hit a red button near the wheel, touch the brake, or turn the wheel and control is restored to the driver.

Benefits

Google sees their autonomous vehicle improving safety on the roads. Having driven 300,000 miles without a crash, Google hopes to lower rates of motor accidents. These vehicles could also safely transport those who typically would be unable to drive.

Legal & Safety Issues

It is a fact, throughout history safety has typically lagged invention: wheel before the brake, car before the seatbelt etc. (Robinson, 2012). Nothing is perfect, whether by technological error or human error, it is conceivable that the Google car will, at some point, make a mistake. Just like your PC at home, the Google car runs off of a computer and global positioning satellite data, both vulnerable to “malicious computer hackers” (Markoff, 2012). A simple plugin of an infected USB could potentially turn your nice Google car into a homicidal drone. Other simple questions arrive about the vehicle: What if a police officer wants you to pull over? At a four-way intersection, will the Google car be too polite to take its turn to aggressive drivers? Where does insurance come into the picture? (Markoff, 2012). If you were to get into a crash, who is to be held liable, the man sitting dormant behind the wheel or the developers of the technology? With such a fresh technology, Thrun and Google simply don’t have the answers. In time the technology will smooth out these rough edges, but for now, some would argue, this car is not ready for the road.

Social Problems

Driving has become more than just going from point A to point B over the years. Cars have created of jobs, served as a centerpiece of American culture and sport, and also serve as a source of hobby and relaxation. Cars are a part of our everyday lives, which seem to be changing constantly. Much of what we do lately, from Facebook to TV, is watch while others while the future passes, allowing life to become a somewhat 2nd hand experience (Robinson, 2012). Many are not ready to let driving fall victim to this same reality that so many aspects of life already have. Our world is becoming increasingly reliant on computers and technological systems to do everything for us. Whereas some people see this as innovation, others see it taking a serious toll on human intellectuality, social competence and basic skills development. Eventually, will we even know how to drive cars 100, 150 years down the road? It is a scary concept, yet one that may become reality before we know it.

Further Required Work

From legal work, to some teleological issues, Google has some work to do before these Autonomous Cars can hit the market. As stated earlier, what if a policeman needs to pull over a Google car, or what if a fire truck is approaching? Google needs to show definitive technological answers that prove these cars will follow simple legal protocol without the need of human intervention. Secondly the concept of insurance is huge; who is liable in a crash? What are the parameters for liability really, because without that established, the public will never get its hands on these vehicles. Almost most importantly, Google needs to work state by state to get these vehicles approved nationwide. Some progress has been made; California is the latest state to allow the testing of these vehicles on the roads—with a human passenger for safety purposes (Kelly, 2012). Nevada was the first to legalize the driverless vehicle last year, and similar laws are being introduced to legislatures in Florida and Hawaii (Markoff, 2012). It has been said that Google’s lobbying for state laws to permit autonomous driving as soon as 2013 or 2014, and some estimate drivers licenses will be obsolete by 2040. The future ahead is unclear, yet very exciting for Thrun and his Google colleagues.

Conclusion

Google, once again, has the opportunity to completely transform the world. Within a matter of years our vehicles may be driving us around, without the need for our attention or care. Their sophisticated technology is amongst the first of its kind, so you will have both enthusiast and skeptics. Yet the facts are irrefutable; 300,000+ miles driven without error. That’s better than a majority of human drivers can say. These cars could eliminate traffic, law violation, speeding, and crashes; it just needs our full faith. In this ever-evolving world we live in, change is constantly among us. This is just a potentially HUGE change, from humans driving, to Google driving for us. Could autonomous driving be the way of the future? We shall wait and see.

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