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September 27, 2012

Self-driving cars a reality for 'ordinary people' within 5 years, says Google's Sergey Brin

Computer World - "autonomous vehicles" will be a reality for "ordinary people" in less than five years, Google CEO Sergey Brin said on Tuesday.

He also said he thinks autonomous cars will be "far safer" than those driven by humans, and he envisioned a world in which office parking lots become a thing of the past, with cars instead dropping off their owners and driving off to park themselves somewhere else.

Brin spoke at a press conference at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters, where California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law state legislation that is designed to accelerate the testing and development of self-driving vehicles.

Bill SB1298 requires, among other things, that a driver be present to take control of the vehicle when needed. It also says autonomous vehicles can only be used for testing until the state has granted various safety approvals. It follows similar legislation passed in Nevada.


Google engineers are already testing the cars and the company hopes to let more employees start testing them within a year, he said.

The Google cars use on-board cameras, lasers, radar and other sensor equipment to monitor road conditions and operate themselves. Proponents say the use of computers and other equipment will make them safer than having humans drive, since people sometimes make errors, lose concentration, fall asleep or drive drunk.

Forty thousand Americans and 1 million people worldwide are killed in automobile accidents every year, Brin said.

"I expect self-driving cars are going to be far safer than human-driven cars," he said.

Still, autonomous vehicles will face a lot of scrutiny before they are allowed on the road, and there's still a lot of work to be done, he said

Brin thinks the benefits will outweigh other concerns. Self-driving cars will be more fuel-efficient, lead to less accidents, and open doors to blind people and others who are "under-served by the current transportation system," he said.

"Some people have disabilities, others are too young, some people are too old, sometimes we're too intoxicated," Brin said.

Self-driving cars will also relieve congestion, according to Brin, because they will be able to drive closer together on highways


An IEEE paper assessed the increase in highway capacity. The increase in highway capacity when using sensors alone is about 43%.

The increase in highway capacity when using both sensors and vehicle to vehicle communication is about 273%.

Current maximum throughput is 2200 vehicles per hour per lane of highway.

Highway capacity increases was also analyzed by the California PATH program. Automation will allow shorter vehicle gaps and narrower spacing from more precise turning.

Platooning cars could get to 400% increase in highway capacity with 25% margin for merging. Longer platoons with smaller gaps enable higher capacity. The most capacity is not always needed and under most circumstances larger gaps and shorter platooning can be used. Platooning also allows the following cars to draft behind the lead vehicle in order to save on fuel.


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