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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Niall Carson/PA Archive The new Google cars are often mistaken for the Street View cars (pictured above) - but have cameras mounted directly on the car itself, and are also fitted with more sensors and radars.

Google reveals latest innovation: cars that drive themselves

The company has been working on automated cars that pull data from Google Maps to drive where you want.

GOOGLE HAS REVEALED its latest technological innovation that’s so advanced, there won’t be a market for it for years: cars that, even in heavy traffic, can drive themselves.

The company better known for its search engine, and more recently hitting the headlines in this part of the world after the launch of its Street View service in Ireland, showed the New York Times a model of a car it has been testing on roads around San Francisco in full daylight and amid heavy traffic.

The specially modified cars – six Toyota Priuses and one Audi – are fitted with a rotating tw0-camera sensor on the roof that scans the real-time environment for details on traffic, kerbs, walls and other objects. There’s also a small ‘position estimator’ on one rear wheel, a video camera mounted on the dashboard to help the car recognise pedestrians and cyclists, and four radar sensors.

Faster than a human can think

Though the cars are, of course, built so that a human can take control of the car should the need arise – for example, if a tree falls just in front of it, or another car breaks a red light, a human can take control simply by steering the wheel – even such urgent ‘driver’ involvement is rarely needed, because the robot mind driving the car can react far quicker to unprecedented shocks than a human can.

Indeed, such is the ability of the cars to cope with the unexpected that the seven machines have driven over 140,000 miles with only minimal human interaction – and over 1,000 miles at a time with no human input required whatsoever.

The cars drive quickly, but never above the speed limit (a detail programmed into its database of roads, which is adapted from Google Maps, with which the cars constantly interact via their GPS receivers), and negotiate even the twistiest roads and streets with ease. How it might cope with M50 gridlock or

So advanced is the car that it even has various driving personalities – ‘cautious’, where it will yield to other cars, or ‘aggressive’ where it will opt to bully its way into a stream of traffic.

Google is currently trying to figure out a way of turning the experiment into a business in its own right – whether it will distil some of the data for resale in GPS units, or collaborate with car manufacturers to build the technology into their own motors.

In the meantime, it will also have to ascertain whether the cars are even legal to drive – humans are required to be “in control” of the vehicle at all times, and it’s not known for sure whether (legally) the ability to overrule the auto-pilot constitutes control.