Google's self-driving car cruises around the city

Iconic image for city streets

As a Long Islander, I am a suburbanite with easy access to Manhattan -- something I probably take for granted. However, when I do make the trip to NYC, I take the train rather than my car. Why? City driving is crazy! Horn-honking, being cut-off, jay-walkers -- it is frustrating and scary to say the least.

For Google though, the company does not see fear in city driving, it sees a challenge. You see, the search-giant's self-driving car has proven successful in slow-paced situations, but now the true test is to take the futuristic vehicle to the city.

"We've logged thousands of miles on the streets of our hometown of Mountain View, Calif. A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area. We've improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously -- pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn. A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can't -- and it never gets tired or distracted", says Chris Urmson, Director, Self-Driving Car Project.

Urmson further explains, "as it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer. As we've encountered thousands of different situations, we've built software models of what to expect, from the likely (a car stopping at a red light) to the unlikely (blowing through it). We still have lots of problems to solve, including teaching the car to drive more streets in Mountain View before we tackle another town, but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously".

In the video below, you can see a demonstration of the car driving on busy roads and detecting objects as it goes. It is a very impressive demonstration to say the least. However, it is a bit scary to think that the tests are being conducted on real roads with real people. A glitch that causes an accident or fatality could spell disaster for the project. That being said, if Google is willing to take that risk, it shows that the company is extremely confident, and that is a good thing.

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