Checking In With Google’s Self-Driving Car: Mastering The City Streets

For as potentially exciting (or terrifying, depending on your point of view) as Google’s self-driving car project is, the company has been strangely mum on its development. A new Google blog post sheds some light on what they’ve been working on, and much of it has to do with figuring out how to safely navigate busy city streets as opposed to the highway.

“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,” wrote Chris Urmson, the project’s director.

Google autonomous car

He stated that the team has improved their software to be able to detect all manner and a great number of objects at the same time, such as pedestrians, buses, road signs, cyclists, and more. “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,” he noted.

He says that their software is getting more sophisticated all the time, and they’re driven more than 700,000 autonomous miles, but he admitted that there’s a long way to go before this technology is ready for primetime. Issues include the need to “teach” the car to more streets in its hometown of Mountain View before trying any other locales.

In sum, progress is being made, but it doesn’t sound like we’ll be passengers in a Google robot car any time soon.