Google’s Autonomous Cars are here and have just been legalized in California, the third state to get on board. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation what will create specific safety regulations for the cars by 2015; it also requires a human to sit behind the wheel as a failsafe.
Are they safe? Sebastian Thrun, the Google engineer who developed the driverless car, has meticulously tested every aspect of the car. The vehicles use an array of cameras, sensors, laser range-finders, and map systems that render it safer than human drivers. A 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Study, “Frequency of Target Crashes for IntelliDrive Safety System could mitigate 81% of automobile crashes, as reported by InformationWeek. Further, the only known crashes the Google self-driving cars have reported (there were two) were not the computer’s fault.
It might be rankling to hear that a computer can drive better than a human being. That sounds a bit like the latest in a series of machine versus human degradations, beginning with John Henry in his competition against the steam-powered hammer, and continuing through Garry Kasparov’s close loss to IBM’s computer “Deep Blue.” But once you get past that, Thrun says his goal is to save a million people from dying in traffic accidents — he himself lost a friend in this way when he was 18 — and it will also allow the elderly and the disabled to drive.