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Google's self-driving car: A long road, but now 300,000 miles shorter

Google's self-driving car: A long road, but now 300,000 miles shorter

Posting in Technology

The Internet giant has given us an update on the project's progress - but there is still a long road ahead.

The Internet giant has given us an update on the project's progress - but there is still a long road ahead.

Google's self-driving car may have sounded like the stuff of fantasy and The Jetsons not so long ago, but the company is famed for getting its teeth into a number of frankly odd and fun projects. The new car is no exception -- and it seems Google's engineers aren't doing too bad a job either.

In a blog post written by lead engineer Chris Urmson, the company said that its prototype vehicle has so far managed an impressive record in testing. The post says:

"Our vehicles, of which about a dozen are on the road at any given time, have now completed more than 300,000 miles of testing. They’ve covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn't been a single accident under computer control."

The car uses video cameras, radar sensors and a laser to "see" other traffic. Google's car then downloads information through detailed maps collected previously by manually-driven vehicles and stored in data centers in order to navigate through different terrains.

The company is "encouraged" by this process, but there is still "a long road ahead" (I'd imagine the pun is intended). The next challenge the car faces is being able to master "snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations" -- perhaps hazards like unforeseen traffic accidents, animals running across a road or flooding.

"As a next step, members of the self-driving car team will soon start using the cars solo (rather than in pairs), for things like commuting to work. This is an important milestone, as it brings this technology one step closer to every commuter. One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars. For now, our team members will remain in the driver's seats and will take back control if needed."

The update is heartening, but there's no known date on when the technology will be sophisticated enough to take to the road -- and whether it will be licensed for the general public.

Image credit: Google

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure