Automated cars may reduce crashes on Chicago’s future streets

As a number of news stories reveal, driver error is the cause behind many automobile accidents. Too often, drivers attempt to multitask behind the wheel, siphoning valuable amounts of attention away from the road. But what if the car could drive itself? The answer to this science fiction question may arrive sooner than many people think. Google has developed a self-driving car that could in time become the future of vehicle transportation.

The car is still in the testing and development phase, but has already demonstrated an aptitude for avoiding car accidents. It navigates through the streets using a GPS locator and reacts constantly to changing road conditions with an array of additional technological instruments. Its most conspicuous feature–a rotating laser pod mounted on the roof–registers the presence of other vehicles as well as pedestrians and other potential hazards on the road. It is also equipped with radar and a camera designed to observe traffic lights and road signs.

The car has produced some positive results. During one test run around a city, the Google car came to an intersection, where a driver unexpectedly ran a stop sign. The automated driving system recognized the human driver’s error and prevented a car crash. In another instance, it correctly stopped for a pack of children who walked out in front of it at an intersection.

But there are still a few bugs to be corrected. At times, the software does not know how to respond to some situations, such as when a car approaches in the opposite direction down a narrow lane. Unsure if there is enough room to pass, the computer defers to the human driver, who can then operate the vehicle like a normal car. It appears from the testing, however, that the self-driving system errs on the side of caution, which is a good rule of thumb for any driver looking to avoid car accidents.

Source:, “Thrilled and bummed by Google’s self-driving car,” Peter Valdes-Dapena, May 18, 2012.