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Google road-testing computer-driven cars

By Daniel Wagner
Associated Press / October 11, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Google Inc. is road-testing cars that steer, stop, and start without a human driver, the company says.

The goal is to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time, and reduce carbon emissions’’ through ride-sharing and “the new ‘highway trains of tomorrow,’ ’’ project leader Sebastian Thrun wrote on Google’s corporate blog.

The cars are never unmanned, Thrun wrote. He said a backup driver is always behind the wheel to monitor the software.

It’s not the first signal Google wants to change how people get from place to place. In a speech Sept. 29 at the TechCrunch “Disrupt’’ conference, Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said “your car should drive itself. It just makes sense.’’

The cars have traveled a total of 140,000 miles on major California roads without much human intervention, according to Google’s corporate blog.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based technology giant has sent seven test cars a total of 1,000 miles without a human touching the controls at all, The New York Times reported yesterday.

The cars know speed limits, traffic patterns, and road maps, Thrun’s posting says. They use video cameras, radar sensors, and lasers to detect other cars.

The cars have navigated San Francisco’s curvy Lombard Street, Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard, and the cliff-hugging Pacific Coast Highway, the blog says.

Engineers consider the cars safer because they react more quickly than humans, The New York Times said.

It said Google has not revealed how it hopes to profit from the research.