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Google’s technology campaign for autonomous driving

by Bill Cooke

Search engine giant Google is looking for partners within in the auto industry to help launch one of the most significant applications of artificial technology over the next several years, the self-driving car.

In a keynote address to the SAE 2012 World Congress on 25 April 2012, Anthony Levandowski, Business Lead for Google’s Self Driving Car Project provided an overview of Google’s autonomous vehicle program and requested that the auto industry partner with Google on the implementation. (Levandowski joined Google in 2007 to launch StreetView—Google Maps with Street View lets you explore places around the world through 360-degree street-level imagery.)

We’re not perfect; the technology is nowhere near ready. We want to set expectations low but we want to encourage dialogue on how we want to move the technology forward.

—Anthony Levandowski

“For some, driving is a distraction.”
—Allen Taub, former GM VP, Global R&D

Levandowski shared that 32,788 people were killed in the US last year in auto accidents and 90% of those accidents were related to human error. Multi-tasking while driving is only increasing to the extent that people view driving as the distraction. Twenty percent of the food consumed in America is eaten in cars. Google believes that a future state with having computers drive cars can “remove a gigantic chunk” of the US fatalities.

Approximately 1.5 million people/year are killed in auto accidents globally. Google is involved because the company has a strong technical legacy and the company likes to take on problems where the “solutions have a high impact on humanity that involve challenging technical problems”.

In addition to the safety impact, Google believes your brain should be able to engage in activities other than driving.

It is a bug, not a feature, that you need to drive all of the time…What if I gave you a pill that allows you to get 10% longer life without any side effects …given how much time we spend in a car, a self driving car is that pill.

—Anthony Levandowski

Prior to working for Google, many of the engineers were veterans of the 2004 and 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge that featured vehicles executing a route across an off road area. Many of these engineers also participated in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge which involved vehicles operating in an urban environment with defined routes but various fixed and moving hazards.

In 2009, Levandowski used an autonomous vehicle to deliver a pizza through the streets of San Francisco. It is interesting to note that in the interest of safety, and perhaps publicity, the pizza delivery vehicle was accompanied by an escort involving eight police cruisers and eight police motorcycles.

“In God we trust, everyone else brings data”
—Google design philosophy

Here’s the high-level approach to Google’s autonomous technology. When the vehicle is initialized and given a destination, it uses GPS to determine its position within 5-10 centimeters. It than uses Google’s mapping functions to overlay a model of the world and to create a route similar to an automotive GPS system. It uses a laser scanner, camera and radar to create a 3D model of the world around it and uses software to identify, categorize and track fixed and moving objects. It combines data from the GPS system and the real world measurements to create a path for the vehicle. The software has the ability to “anticipate” an open path but in general “the vehicle is more polite than you or I” according to Mr. Levandowski. The system focuses on defensive driving—“we don’t try to correct other people’s mistakes”—and it won’t rapidly accelerate to avoid being rear ended.

One of the advantages of the system is that it is backward compatible with existing infrastructure; it doesn’t require special markers in the road or transponders on other vehicles.

System performance isn’t limited to human reaction times. “We measure thousand of parameters during the vehicle development and one of the most significant data points is ‘time to collision’ (TTC).” TTC measures how quickly a collision is going to occur if no evasive actions are taken. In situations with a short TTC (less than 7.5 seconds) the robotic system is “dramatically better than a human.”

The vehicle is lightning fast through obstacle courses; “… over a closed course where a one minute lap time is considered excellent the robotic system can beat a professional driver by two to three seconds.

Steve gets a taco and the hour-long commute. Google shared two examples of the development vehicle in use. The first one involved Steve, who is blind, and in 2012 got into a car and drove down to a local store to get a taco. This represented more of a future state since although the vehicle was capable of executing the actions to get Steve to and from the taco shop, there are still significant legal issues to be worked out before blind people can routinely drive cars autonomously. Google is interested in “Not only how we treat the ‘best’ but those that need our technology the most”.

The second example was a Google employee who lived in Berkeley, CA and commuted to Mountain View. The employee’s commute is approximately one hour each way and along that commute 45 minutes was in autonomous mode and 15 minutes was in driver mode with eight driver/autonomous transitions along the way. Per Google policy, employees weren’t allowed to text or do other highly distracting activities in autonomous mode but the employee really appreciated the ability to “concentrate on other things and make the mental transition between home and work” during autonomous mode.

The vehicle is capable of doing the entire commute autonomously but the team has decided to focus their efforts on improving highway performance. Google’s fleet of converted Priuses have travelled more than 250,000 miles in autonomous mode and Google believes they’ll need to covered closer to one million miles before the technology can be released onto the market.

From an energy standpoint, autonomous driving is more efficient since the vehicle is “hypermiling the entire time … and imagine if your vehicle knows the stop light ahead is going to be red before you get there …

“The real danger is the failure of our imagination.”
—Anthony Levandowski

Nevada and Florida (AB 511 and CS/HB 1207) have approved legislation that provides the legislative intent to safely develop the operation of motor vehicles with autonomous technology on the public roads of their respective states but doesn’t give authorization to deploy the vehicles until the technical and legal issues are better understood. The California state Senate has approved a similar measure (SB 1298).

The bill content varies by state but both states require a human to be in the vehicle during operation.

In Florida’s case, the legislation was approved by the Governor on 13 April 2012 and directs the State’s Department of Highway Safety for Motor Vehicles to prepare a report for the legislature on the safe operation of autonomous vehicles no later than 12 February 2014.

Nevada defines “Artificial intelligence” to mean the use of computers and related equipment to enable a machine to duplicate or mimic the behavior of human beings” and “autonomous vehicles” to mean a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator”.

Although the legal language is still very preliminary, Google hopes that ultimate legal responsibility and liability for the vehicle will stay with the owner but “as any third-grader will tell you, if the robot makes a mistake, it’s the robot’s fault”.

Failure modes and orange barrels. Google’s autonomous vehicles still have areas where they want to improve. Construction zones and joggers provide special challenges. Google is enthusiastically looking for worst case samples of each situation to develop their software. Levandowski showed a video of a narrow, winding CA road full of runners which they use for software development.

Google understands that there is always the risk of system failure and is especially concerned about a failure of a key sensor. There is going to be redundancy among the sensors but for some situations they want the driver to be able to take over in such a situation but they realize it can’t be instantaneous. They’re working on the appropriate window but they expect it to be on the order of 10-20 seconds.

“There are as many views on this technology as there are car brands,”
—Anthony Levandowski

Google doesn’t want to make cars” and is looking for partners to deploy the technology, Levandowski said. In addition to working with state legislators and NHSTA on policy and regulation they’ve also been in talk with insurance companies. Google believes they’ll be able to provide evidence that “actuaries can use to reduce insurance rates” to apply to vehicles while they’re being operated in autonomous mode.

Google has talked to various original equipment manufacturers (OEM) individually about the technology with various responses; Google has also been talking to the Auto Alliance—an industry wide group.

To accelerate the deployment of the technology, Google is exploring retrofitting existing vehicles. To prevent opposition from the OEM’s legal departments about third-party modifications, the Florida legislation explores provisions to protect the original equipment manufacturer from lawsuits if a third party converts their vehicle into autonomous drive.

Levandowski believes strongly in implementing the technology quickly: “the most important thing a computer can do over the next ten years is drive a car” and start reducing the 32,788 traffic fatalities a year in the US.



The obstacle-course performance is excellent, and I can see why Florida is interested in promoting computer-driven vehicles.  Florida, as a haven for retirees, is notorious for hordes of senile drivers with impaired senses and judgement who behave unpredictably and just clog traffic flow.  Letting them get around without relying on their own impaired capabilities is better for everyone.


Yes could include most young drivers (16 to 25 years old and all those who forgot to grow up) who are responsible for a very high percentage of major accidents in all 50 States. Coupled with appropriate drivers skill-dexterity-risky behavior detectors, some 30,000 + lives and 400,000 + injuries could be avoided in USA (alone) every year.


With today's and future low cost electronics, it would be rather easy to project a driver's skill test on the windshield and make passing it compulsory before the vehicle starts. Failing the test twice could automatically freeze the car and call a taxis or DoT?


1,000,000 miles testing isn't enough for me. They need 10,000,000 miles before releasing it to the market. The cars are still 2-3,000 lb bullets. Auto companies products have probably killed 50,000,000 since the days of the Model T. We still have "Let them burn!" executives in control of cars as we had with the Ford Pinto. That's why they keep adding more and more distracting electronic stuff in spite of their promise to NHTSA to reduce their presence. Naturally, their bottom line is still profit and not safety, or they would make cars now that would always obey the speed limit. I wouldn't trust any engineer who says these self driving cars will be ready in any amount of time.


Zhukova seems to think that horses were risk-free, and that automobiles have been killing people at the current rate for approximately 1,000 years.

Roger Pham

I can see a much more dangerous risk of human losing jobs to machines. Google's robodriver may save a few tens of thousands of lives a year at most, but the internet Giant is spearheading a far more dangerous trend of increasing youth joblessness. Many PhD's and engineers laid off from work are now driving taxis. What if there will be no more taxis to drive? Hewlett Parkard will lay off 30,000 workers. The US postal service will layoff several times many if not more...etc.

How about assigning each handicapped person a cell-phone to schedule a pickup via HandiTran service? A human professional driver driving a minivan can provide door-to-door service and a computer network can coordinate all these demands for pickup and drop off to achieve cost-effectiveness and energy saving results. A GPS-enabled smart phone and display can tell the driver and the person just when and where to wait to be picked up, and how long and where the HandiTran van is actually located so the passenger can plan ahead and coordinate his/her activities. All billings will be done electronically to avoid robbery risk to the driver. On-board camera and other electronic devices can protect the driver and passeners from criminals.

Even though a professional driver (probably a young college graduate these days!) is highly trained, an on-board radar-based collision avoidance system can further automatically brake the vehicle when it senses rapid closure rate with vehicles in front.

I strongly believe that electronics and AI should help human doing a better job instead of taking away human jobs.


@EP You should know as well as anyone that even ancient Romans complained about people driving chariots through the streets at high speed. Why would anyone believe that the auto company executives care about safety as long as they can dupe the public to believe their products are safe? Maybe you forgot how hard it was to force them to put seat belts in their products in the 80's. Their industry isn't any different than the tobacco industry, which set up the American Tobacco Institute to brainwash American customers and lawmakers to believe the phony science that tobacco is safe.


@EP "Approximately 1.5 million people/year are killed in auto accidents globally"

At that rate it takes only 33.3 years, not 1,000, to kill 50,000,000.

Auto companies are private companies, which means they work behind closed doors. Lawmakers shouldn't be allowing these cars on public roads based only on the private testing of Google or any auto companies. Have you seen Google's test procedures? Exactly how to they test the cars, just drive them around and see what happens? Have they published any quantitative results besides driving to a "local store to get a taco"?


A local restaurant is doing without waiters and printed menus. Customers use their WiFi equipped tablet or phablet to look at the menu, order and pay for their meals. A robotized system delivers the meals without delays. No more tired waiters, no more long delays, no more cold plates, no more mistakes etc.

Not sure yet if robots are used in the kitchen, but the meals and services are very appreciated.

Banks did about the some 20+ years ago and not many complained, most customers appreciate quicker services.

When 1,000,000 + restaurants do the same, 10 to 20 million more jobs will evaporate.

With appropriate driver electronic assistance, many million incidents and fatal accidents will be avoided. That will also reduce a few/many million jobs in repair shops and hospitals across the country and worldwide.

Eventually, working 40 + hours/week will also evaporate. People will progressively work less and as little as 20 hours/week.

For the majority to survive, the 3% will have to contribute much more and pay their fair share of the financial burden for general services. That will also come soon.


There should be no stigma attached to those who do not work at paying jobs and, in fact, I do not think there is today, in many people’s minds at least.

Whether you cannot find a job or do not choose to work, it is all much the same.

Those who work - do so by choice – for materialistic reasons I might add.

They must pay their fair share of taxes -
- it was their choice to work.

The reluctance that many have to giving the money they worked for (BY CHOICE) is selfish and is rightfully criminalized (but to an inadequate degree) by IRS laws.

People are slowing coming to realize that workers do not have any basic right to “their” paychecks, indeed their greedy behavior makes them obviously less deserving than their non-materialistic neighbors (and non-materialistic does not mean they do not deserve as much money as a worker).

And do not get me started on the outrageous greed and disregard for others demonstrated by those who pursue higher education – there would likely be no ipods to displace waiters if we had only grade school graduates –

Fortunately, many upper level graduates generously decline to seek jobs in the private (greedy) sector.

Likewise, almost all companies are actually founded for the same single materialistic reasons as greedy workers - only to make a profit. These companies have no right to sell what they want nor what the buyer wants – society (the Gov) should decide what they make, how they make it, to what standards and who they employ.

Cuba is a shining example of a progressive society. Contrary to what the news media tells us (news orgs are in it for the money) people such as Michael Moore have discovered that, not only is their health care system much better than anywhere else in the world, their entire system is near utopian.

Boat people are actually going the other way – TO Cuba.

Roger Pham

Good but sad points, Harvey! There will be fewer and fewer entry-level jobs for young people to support themselves through school. Yet, these jobs help young people build character and learn to adapt to their more important jobs later on.
The introduction of BEV's and HEV's will also eliminate a lot of mechanic jobs.

The drive toward business profitability should be tempered by humanity. The well-being of all members of society should receive higher priority than business profitability. All those who are able to work need decent-paying jobs instead of handouts to preserve their dignity and to maintain a sense of well-being. Job creation is government's job #1.

Your sarcasm has some element of truth in it. We all know that the old-style socialism / c0mmu!sm was bad. However, please consider this new-style socialism:

For example, if your kids want money or allowance, would you rather give them the all the money they want, or would you rather have your kids work by cleaning the house, do the dishes, cut the grass, etc. for their allowance? Works help build character and skills and strength, just like athletics. Those kids who work harder should be compensated more than those who are less able to work, but at the end of day, no kids should be left hungry or cold, right? Society should take care of its members just the same way we take care of our kids.

To make the new socialistic system sustainable, only one requirement will be necessary: Those who work should have higher fertility rates than those who can't or don't work. Welfare should pay for only one child per family. Overtime, the population of those who can't or don't work will be kept at a low and sustainable level for society to continue to function.


Those who work harder should be compensated more than those who do not, more than those who are less trained, or have earned less of an education or are less able to work. This IS today’s system, not a new socialistic system.

There are few today who believe anyone should be left truly hungry or cold.
SS is growing and "soup kitchens" ARE plentiful.

There are many today who believe everyone should have not just equal opportunity but equal outcome. If you have a nice car, house, wife, kids – they should also; and are even entitled to yours.

Society DOES take care of its members similar to the way we take care of our kids.
SS gives many people money (though not all they want) but with no requirements for “cleaning the house, doing the dishes, cutting the grass, etc.

Not nearly a perfect system, but I don’t know how it could be made better.

Simply taking more from those who earn more seems unjustified, greedy and ineffective.

When you say;
“Those who work should have higher fertility rates than those who can't or don't work.
Welfare should pay for only one child per family.”

Is this like "everyone should floss", or are you advocating the Gov enforce this?

I think the New Socialism being pushed by this administration encourages all and every (poor, rich, small businesses and large) to be moochers, grab whatever you can, however you can (except, maybe not by working hard).

Roger Pham

Unemployment is getting higher and higher everywhere in the world today. Even China is experiencing economic slow down. As I had predicted years ago, this day will come with unchecked Globalism. Many perfectly-employable people are chronically unemployed, or working way below their level of training and education. Greed and profitability for few 3% is put way ahead of humanity of 97%. The current system is disastrous, TT. It robbed human being of dignity while destroying the environment at a feverish pace (pun intended, aka GW)

No, the wealthy should not be overly taxed. However, their considerable wealth should be guided into making the type of investments that will benefit humanity in term of job creation and environmental preservation. The rich will surely get richer with the type of investments that will lead to job creation, since more people will get to work, get paid, and spend their income that will lead to economic growth. Investments by the rich that will lead to job-outsourcing and continual environmental destruction will destroy global economy, our environment, and eventually, the human races.

No, not "everyone should floss." However, those who get government funding for dental care should be required to floss daily as the condition for getting government-funded dental work. No dental flossing, no governmental funding for dental work.
Not on birth control? Then no more wealth fare checks! Applying for welfare support for the first baby? Then must sign agreement that no more welfare support for subsequent children as a condition!

What evidence do you have for criticizing the current Obama administration? The previous administration sent 1 trillion usd out of our country into pockets of their sponsors while creating public debts that we will forever be paying the INTERESTS on, and created the mess that we are having today.


As the world finds more and more ways to automate farming, food processing, cooking + serving and most industries including education and health care, everybody working 40 hours/week will no longer be a necessity.

One early example will be the removal of the class room backboards and the general use of smart tablets by every student, in and out of the class room. Many more students will be able to interact (orally and visually) with the teacher without really being there. Top teachers will be able to teach to hundreds at the same time. High quality teaching materials will be stored to be re-use over and over again. Third world schools will have access to top quality teaching.

Soon, the world will have to find better ways to share the work and specially to better share the wealth. The 3% will have to support a much larger portion of the burden, proportional to or even more than their respective wealth ownership. The lower class and the poorer middle class cannot continue to support 90% of the burden with only 10% of the wealth by going deeper and deeper in debt, directly or via governments.

Working more hours and getting paid less is not the answer nor the solution.

Higher education does not have to cost $40,000/year. If so, only children of the 3% will be able to afford it. A 0.5% or 1% fee on banking and stock market transaction could be used to pay 95 + % of successful studies.


“Should” is a wimp word.

People “should” floss, exercise, drive slower and leave earlier, get to bed earlier, drink less, avoid drugs, drive smaller cars and smile more.
It “should” rain tomorrow; the repair man “should” be here by now.

I think even the progressives would not support a government funded Gestapo to confirm your flossing nor one to confirm you use birth control (or do you want no welfare support for subsequent children – “it’s their fault for having deadbeat parents”).

Evidence for criticizing the current Obama administration? Wake up and see where we are heading.
The previous administration is at fault? What, why and how?

According to CBS the National Debt (per the Bureau of Public Debt at the Treasury Department) has increased the same amount ($4.9 trillion) in only 3.2 years with Obama's as in 8 years of GW and now stands at $15.6 trillion.

And one might argue that as the Debt grows (it now exceeds 100% of GDP), the need to act might go from “should” to MUST.

Are we going to follow Greece and Spain (no war spending there, by the way)
No - let’s compare this blundering with the GWB administration –
It’s a race to the bottom - and we have the un-leadership to win.

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