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Shootouts and police chases: The FBI is worried about Google's driverless cars...

The FBI’s Intelligence Directorate says Google’s project opens up “ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon”.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE FBI IS AFRAID that criminals will use Google’s driverless cars to conduct freeway shootouts and car chases, according to The Guardian. Because the cars drive themselves, passengers are free to do anything else they want in the car without fear of it crashing, like pull out a Glock and pop some caps into other drivers, or police cars that might be tailing them.

The FBI commissioned a report on the impact of cars on traffic crime enforcement, and The Guardian obtained the document via a Freedom of Information request:

The report, written by agents in the Strategic Issues Group within the FBI’s Directorate of Intelligence, says:

Autonomy … will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today….In addition, algorithms can control the distance that the patrol car is behind the target to avoid detection or intentionally have a patrol car make opposite turns at intersections, yet successfully meet up at later points with the target.

The fear is that criminals might hack the cars to override its safety features or that terrorists might program the cars to drive with bombs inside them.

The good news is that the FBI report accepts that, overall, Google’s cars will likely reduce the number of accidents and fatalities. And it envisions a law enforcement version that uses an algorithm that allows police cars to get dangerously close to other cars in the event of a high-speed pursuit.

The FBI is thinking ahead: the cars are still in their test phase and are not expected to be available commercially in the US for years.

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What “high-speed” means is an open question, though. Writing about the project’s progress recently, the New York Times noted that Google’s cars are planned for urban environments rather than long-distance trips and motorways – and will hit a max of 25 mph.

Earlier this year, Google was awarded a patent to allow businesses offer customers free or discounted trips to their stores, effectively turning the vehicles into a kind of ad-powered taxi.

- Additional reporting by Susan Ryan

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