Auto-mobile: A WSJ blog on robotic cars

  • October 12, 2010, 2:00 PM ET

Google’s Robot Cars: A Coming-Out For Automated Vehicles

By Jonathan Welsh
Google’s automated cars drive themselves with help from video cameras and numerous sensors. They also carry people who can take over in case of emergency.

For many car fans, people in the auto business and technology enthusiasts, the revelation of Google Inc.’s test fleet of robotic cars is not a big surprise.

But for those of us who love driving, the development of automated vehicles like those depicted in the 2002 film “Minority Report,” seems like a mixed blessing. While it promises to make automobile travel safer, it could take away an activity many people find pleasurable.

We’ve seen it coming. Car makers have been developing technology using cameras, radar sensors and global positioning systems to prevent collisions and keep cars from getting off course. A Google spokesman says systems in the company’s automated cars are “almost like an extension of the technologies” already available in production cars.

Even before the Tom Cruise movie showed vehicles driving themselves, the auto industry was selling cars with features like adaptive cruise control, which uses radar and laser range finders to monitor the proximity of other cars. More recently cars have rolled out with lane-departure warning systems that are one step away from guiding them without any driver input. Braking systems on some new cars can stop them short of an obstacle if the driver is too inattentive to do so.

Still, the Google project is an eye-opener for people who assumed driverless cars were decades away. The company says its cars have driven themselves more than 140,000 miles including trips on California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the Golden Gate Bridge, down Lombard Street in San Francisco and around Lake Tahoe.

Read more at the WSJ blog Driver’s Seat.