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Google Inc. is road-testing cars that steer, stop and start without a driver, the company says. The objective, they declared, 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 published Saturday on Google’s corporate blog. The cars are never unmanned, Thrun wrote. He said a backup driver is always behind the wheel to check the software and monitor it.
It’s not the first signal that Google wants to change how people get from one location to another. In a speech Sept. 29 at the TechCrunch “Disrupt” conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said “your car should drive itself. It just makes sense.”
The cars that Google is testing have traveled a total of 140,000 miles on major California roads without much human intervention, according to Google. The Mountain View, Calif.-based technology company has sent seven test cars a total of 1,000 miles without a human touching the controls at all, the New York Times reported. The newspaper published a report on the cars earlier Sunday. 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 vehicles around it.
Driving between Northern California and Southern California, the cars have driven around San Francisco’s curvy Lombard Street, Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard and the cliff-hugging Pacific Coast Highway, Google’s 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 make profits from the research.