Autonomous car Stories August 29, 2016

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Update: David Drummond has now stepped down from Uber’s board, according to an Uber statement given to The Information.

In an interesting note from The Information (paywall), we learn that for around a year, Uber has been shutting out its Alphabet board members from board meetings. Google and now Alphabet through its GV arm own a single digit percentage of Uber through early stage investments. That investment also allowed Google to secure a board seat at Uber. That in turn has made a somewhat uncomfortable relationship as Uber **ventures** more into mapping and autonomous driving and Google’s autonomous driving picks up steam, perhaps even for big-rigsexpand full story

Autonomous car Stories January 15, 2016

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When Tesla’s Elon Musk tweeted that he expected to the company’s cars to be able to drive themselves across the U.S. from coast to coast within two years, my response was that I might believe the tech could hit that deadline, but not the law. It seems I may be wrong.

The WSJ reports that the Obama administration wants to invest $3.9B in crafting rules and policies to facilitate the rapid rollout of self-driving cars. This would take place at the federal level, ensuring consistent national laws rather than a patchwork of state-by-state regulations …

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Autonomous car Stories January 14, 2016

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Medium’s tech hub editor-in-chief Steven Levy provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a test-(non)driver of one of Google’s self-driving cars. Among the more surprising facts is that there’s a four-week full-time course to qualify to sit behind the wheel of one of the company’s testbed Lexus cars – with additional training needed for the cute prototype cars with only emergency controls.

There’s an abbreviated version for those who will only be sitting in the cars on the company’s private test facility. If you fancy the job, the most reliable way to apply, says Levy, is to be friends with an existing driver. If you can’t swing that, there’s always the option of applying to be a professional pedestrian …

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Autonomous car Stories January 5, 2016

Ford’s CES presentation with an expected important Google announcement about self-driving cars [Updated]

A recent report suggests that Google and Ford are planning to announce a joint venture to build self-driving cars. The announcement is expected to be made at Ford’s CES presentation, which is set to start at 7:30AM PST.

You can watch a livestream below.

Autonomous car Stories December 21, 2015

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Google’s self-driving car initiative has been gaining momentum over the past year, but now it looks like the company has at least one more big piece of news up its sleeve. According to a report from Yahoo Autos, Google and Ford are planning to announce a joint venture to build self-driving cars.

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Autonomous car Stories December 17, 2015

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Google’s vision of self-driving cars whose interiors have no driving controls could be thwarted in its home state of California. Automotive News reports that the California Department of Motor Vehicles wants to impose legislation that would require all autonomous vehicles to have both driving controls and a specially-licensed driver behind the wheel.

While Google’s primary test fleet of self-driving cars have manual controls, these are only intended for development purposes. The next-generation prototypes (shown above) have no controls …

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Autonomous car Stories November 12, 2015

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Google’s ongoing self-driving car project has recorded more than 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving so far and like most drivers it’s picked up a few interesting stories. Today, the Google self-driving car team shared a post on Google+ showing that one of its cars had been pulled over while driving though California.

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Autonomous car Stories November 2, 2015

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Google’s self-driving cars are aware that children can be less predictable than adults, being programmed to act more cautiously around them. But to do that, they first need to be able to identify them as children – something which can be more challenging when they’re wearing costumes – so Google took advantage of Halloween to give the cars some additional learning.

This week, lots of little ghouls, superheroes and even robots were running around Google with their families, so we asked them to hang out around our parked cars. This gives our sensors and software extra practice at recognizing children in all their unique shapes and sizes, even when they’re in odd costumes … 

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Autonomous car Stories September 29, 2015

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Google’s self-driving cars may have an impressive safety record – having never caused an accident in more than a million miles of driving on public roads – but the company admits that their ultra-cautious approach can make them a little unpredictable and annoying to other drivers, reports the WSJ. Examples include taking a very wide approach on turns, and braking at the slightest sign of danger.

The cars are “a little more cautious than they need to be,” Chris Urmson, who leads Google’s effort to develop driverless cars, [said]. “We are trying to make them drive more humanistically” … 

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Autonomous car Stories September 14, 2015

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If there were any remaining question about whether Google plans to actually proceed to a full-scale commercial launch of its self-driving car at some point, a hire reported late last night by Automotive News seems to remove any doubt. It reports that Google has hired John Krafcik, former Hyundai CEO and a car industry veteran, to head up the program.

Krafcick refers in an email to the cars being used by “millions” of people.

“This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars,” Krafcik wrote in an email to Automotive News. “This technology can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility, and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today. I can’t wait to get started.” 

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Autonomous car Stories July 17, 2015

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Google’s self-driving cars are drawing a lot of attention and conversation online. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns from regular people like you and I is how safe they are. But as a recent video and blog post shows, you’re seemingly infinitely far more likely to be hit by another driver not paying attention, than your car malfunctioning and crashing in to someone else. But why do Google’s cars get hit so much?

Chris Urmson posted a really interesting article about what it’s like being hit by another car, driven by a human, while taking a ride in a self-driving Googlemobile. Urmson notes that the autonomous cars are being hit “surprisingly often”, despite their fancy array of sensors, processors and algorithms.

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Autonomous car Stories June 19, 2015

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California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has released brief factual details of six accidents involving Google and Delphi self-driving cars, after the Associated Press successfully argued that legitimate public interest in the safety of the cars outweighed normal confidentiality rules. Self-driving cars were not found to be at fault in any of the accidents, and there were no injuries.

According to the reports, most of the cars were in self-driving mode when the accidents happened, and the other driver caused the accident. None of the crashes were serious enough to injure the person the state requires to sit behind the wheel, and the reports say none of the people in the other cars were treated for injuries either.

Five of the six accidents involved Google cars, and four of those were with the car in self-driving mode. The DMV was unaware of eight other accidents involving Google autonomous cars until the company shared the information during a conference call in April …  expand full story

Autonomous car Stories May 15, 2015

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Google’s fleet of self-driving Lexus cars have notched up a total of 140,000 miles on public roads, and the company is now ready to begin road-testing its first purpose-built autonomous cars.

We first saw the cute-looking cars almost a year ago, when the company explained that they were not intended to ever make it to public sale. Their purpose is to see how people respond to a next-generation driverless car before later seeking partners to actually bring the technology to market.

We learned earlier this week that Google’s existing Lexus fleet has been involved in three low-speed accidents, none of them the fault of the car, but the company still isn’t taking any chances in this latest phase …  expand full story

Autonomous car Stories March 25, 2015

Google may be planning to equip driverless cars with external airbags, protecting pedestrians

While Google’s driverless cars have notched-up over 700,000 miles without causing a single crash (one car was rear-ended and another crashed while being driven manually), it seems Google plans to cover all the bases. It has today been granted a patent on external cushioning to protect pedestrians in a collision.

External airbags are not a new invention–as Quartz notes, Volvo already has these on some vehicles. Google’s patent takes the idea a stage further, combining bumper-mounted airbags with foam bumpers behind them. The idea is to ensure that after the airbag has deployed, pedestrians aren’t then bounced off the car body.

A system for protecting a pedestrian during impact with a vehicle, the system having a bumper adapted for attachment to an end of the vehicle, wherein the bumper is comprised of a plurality of air sacs, wherein the bumper has a horizontal thickness extends from the end of the vehicle, wherein at least some of the plurality of air sacs stretch and then burst during impact between the bumper and a pedestrian causing deceleration along the horizontal width of the bumper during the impact, wherein the bumper undergoes plastic deformation during impact with the pedestrian as the at least some of the air sacs burst during impact, and wherein the bursting of some of the plurality of air sacs reduces spring back of the bumper on the pedestrian.

Given likely nervousness about the idea of driverless cars, Google may also be thinking about ways to reassure both the public and regulatory authorities.

Google isn’t the only tech giant exploring autonomous cars: Apple is believed to be working on its own version too.

Via Engadget

Autonomous car Stories September 18, 2014

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You might think Google’s ‘moonshot’ lab, Google X, is pretty out there, with autonomous cars, smart contact lenses and balloon-served Internet. But co-founder Larry Page seemingly thinks the company needs to look even further ahead: The Information (paywall) reports that he has proposed a second lab, Google Y, to look at even bigger issues.

The idea came out out of an initiative Page created called Google 2.0, designed to create a new set of goals for the company, an approach similar to that taken by the late Steve Jobs at Apple in 2010, where he created an off-site strategy-planning meeting for the top 100 people in the company.

A little over a year ago, Google CEO Larry Page convened his direct reports, the company’s dozen or so senior vice presidents, for a project that would take up two days a week for a couple of months. About 100 other employees below the SVP rank also participated in the effort, dubbed Google 2.0 …

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Autonomous car Stories September 1, 2014

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Google’s self-driving cars may have notched up 700,000 accident-free miles without anyone needing to press the big red Stop button, but project director Chris Urmson’s personal deadline to have the cars on sale to the public is still five years away, reports the MIT’s Technology Review.

Most tech-heads know that the cars rely on inch-perfect modelling of the specific streets they will use, the cars unable to drive anywhere else, but the piece revealed that this is just one of the challenges ahead …  expand full story

Autonomous car Stories August 21, 2014

Google’s autonomous car without steering wheel or pedals to get steering wheel & pedals …

When Google showed off its built-from-scratch self-driving car with no steering-wheel or pedals, the world’s press weren’t the only people watching: California’s DMV also had its eye on the vehicle.

A new rule taking effect in California from 16th September says that self-driving cars are only legal on public roads if a driver is able to take “immediate physical control,” reports the WSJ. That means that Google is going to have to make a couple of small adjustments to the cars: fitting that missing steering-wheel and pedals.

[Google] said it plans to comply with the California rule by building a small, temporary steering wheel and pedal system that drivers can use during testing.

“With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features, while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary,” Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said.

The company will initially be testing the fleet of 100 prototype vehicles on private roads.

Google had also wanted to test other types of autonomous vehicles, including motorcycles, but the DMV refused permission. California DMV official Bernard Soriano did, however, state that they are drafting rules that allow members of the public to operate driverless cars within a couple of years – and by that time, no steering-wheel or pedals will be required.

Only a handful of US states allow driverless cars on the road at present, but others are likely to follow California’s lead, and other countries likewise.

Autonomous car Stories July 30, 2014

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If you’d like to know what makes Google’s self-driving car tick, the company is hosting an interactive Hangout as part of its Maker Camp field trip program. The festivities start on Friday, August 1st at 11AM PT/2PM ET, but you can start asking your questions right now. In addition to a Q&A session with participants, Google will be discussing how its driverless car operates, as well as the project’s latest developments.

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Autonomous car Stories July 16, 2014

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Google recently gave the world a look at its homegrown self-driving vehicle and although it looks like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, not everyone is convinced that the company’s cutesy car will be used for the good of mankind. According to an alleged FBI report obtained by The Guardian, the bureau believes that autonomous vehicles can be “lethal weapons,” but not in ways that you may think.

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Autonomous car Stories June 9, 2014

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The US isn’t the only country making preparations for self-driving cars, the UK is in the process of revamping its laws to allow driverless vehicles to cruise its roads. Science minister David Willetts recently told Mail Online that he has started talking with the Department for Transport to help British companies develop their own self-driving cars, with efforts currently underway in Oxford.

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Autonomous car Stories June 4, 2014

Satirical Conan video suggests Google’s self-driving car has a few bugs

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After Google demonstrated a prototype of a purpose-built self-driving car, Conan made a few edits …

Google wanted to show what an autonomous car might look like without any manual driving controls, and to see what people made of it. What Conan made of it was this one-minute amusing video.

The reality, of course, is that Google’s self-driving cars have clocked up 700,000 accident-free miles without anyone having had to use the emergency stop button.

The DMV is looking at the issue of how driving infringements by autonomous vehicles might be handled, and California is close to issuing the cars with driver’s licences.

Autonomous car Stories May 22, 2014

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Google’s home state, California will start granting driver’s licenses to driverless cars in September. The DMV will charge $150 a pop for an autonomous car’s driving permit and will allow the self-driving vehicles to cruise public roads as long as the automobile meets the state agency’s strict requirements. California will issue licenses to autonomous vehicles if its test drivers are employed by its manufacturer and have the proper permits and documentation. The car’s driver/passenger must remain behind the wheel at all times and be ready to take over if needed. This doesn’t sound too bad, right? But here comes the boom.

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Autonomous car Stories May 21, 2014

Google argues it, not the person in the driver’s seat, should receive any tickets for its self-driving cars

Google argues that should any of its self-driving cars get a ticket for a traffic violation, that ticket should go to the company and not to the person in the driver’s seat, reports The Atlantic.

“Right now the California Vehicle Code reads that the person seated in the driver’s seat is responsible for the movement of the vehicle,” Mountain View PD’s Jaeger tole me in an email […]

“What we’ve been saying to the folks in the DMV, even in public session, for unmanned vehicles, we think the ticket should go to the company. Because the decisions are not being made by the individual,” said Ron Medford, safety director for Google’s self-driving car program, and the former deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

None of Google’s self-driving cars have yet been ticketed, but the possibility could have significant implications in states like California that apply points to driving licenses as well as handing out fines.

Surprisingly, the DMV is already addressing the issue, having held four public meetings to examine the way the driving code might need to be adapted to cope with autonomous cars.

The assistant chief counsel for the California DMV, Brian Soublet, opened the most recent meeting asking, specifically, if anyone had comments on the definition of operator in the legal code. “The vehicle code defines an operator as the person seated in the driver’s seat,” Soublet said, “or if there is no one seated in the driver’s seat, the person who causes the autonomous technology to engage.” […]

“[In law] a person includes a corporation and a partnership and other forms of entities. So when we think of a vehicle being operated, is it that inclusive? Is the operator that person, that could be a corporation?”

So if your self-driving car decides it is safer to run a light than to brake hard, it could be Google who picks up the tab.

Autonomous car Stories December 2, 2013

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shocked Charlie Rose on Cyber Monday Eve (great timing for the PR-savvy retail giant) by showing him the future of delivery services – autonomous drones that will pick up and deliver wares from fulfillment centers. From which we can conclude that Charlie Rose doesn’t read 9to5Google, where the concept is old news.

We mentioned way back in February that Google was already working on drone delivery services:

Along with Glass, Google will have an opportunity to demonstrate other upcoming and Google X projects like driverless cars and mini-drone delivery systems at its stores.

We reference it again when the company launched the trial of its ‘Google Shopping Express’ same-day delivery service to Bay Area residents:

Google, in the long run, plans to use self-driving cars and flying drones as means of delivery.

And again:

9to5Google also heard this service was coming, and we have some more somewhat wild information on the program. Google, in the long run, plans to use self-driving cars and flying drones as means of delivery. We also heard Google’s delivery project came from the Google X incubator headed by cofounder Sergey Brin.

Clearly there are a lot of hurdles to jump on the way to this vision (privacy, theft, accidents, visual pollution, etc, etc). but it’s equally clear that these two Silicon Valley heavy-weights are prepping to battle in the skies above.

Google might have gotten there first, but Amazon definitely wins the PR battle so far: a short concept video for a service which doesn’t yet exist, and which even optimistically it doesn’t expect to launch for a couple of years, got everyone talking about them. Including Charlie Rose. Video below …

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