Look Ma, No Hands: Google’s Self-Driving Car

Mar 29, 2012 8:21pm

“Look, Ma, no hands,” Steve Mahan joked, holding his hands above his head.

No hands, no feet, no nothing.

Introducing Google’s self-driving car. According to Google, it “makes driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient.” And for Mahan, who is 95% blind, it makes driving possible.

The car, a Toyota Prius with a bizarre spinning cylinder on the roof, uses artificial intelligence software that can sense any traffic or activity near the car, mimicking a human driver.

“There’s much left to design and test, but we have now safely completed more than 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, gathering great experiences and an overwhelming number of enthusiastic supporters,” this week’s Google post noted.

The company released a new video this week of Mahan taking the car for a spin alongside a few Google engineers and a local police sergeant to ensure all went smoothly. They drove on a carefully programmed route so that Mahan could “experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way.”

“Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things,” Mahan said in the video, as he directed the car to a taco drive-thru.

But you can’t drive a self-driving car just anywhere. (Yet.) Nevada was the first state to pass a law making self-driving cars legal earlier this year. Bills have been introduced in California, Florida, Hawaii and Oklahoma, while Arizona voted down a bill.

Google is leading the charge but isn’t the only company thinking ahead. Ford executive chairman Bill Ford has talked about cars communicating with each other on the road, and Mercedes, BMW and Audi also say they are developing software to better handle traffic congestion.

In May, the new Cadillac XTS will include sensors, radar and cameras to provide a 360-degree input designed to prevent crashes. GM says it willl have semiautonomous cars on the road by 2015 and fully autonomous ones by the end of the decade.

To be sure, self-driving cars are still years from hitting your neighborhood car dealership but for Mahan, today’s short drive was unforgettable.

“This is some of the best driving I’ve ever done,” said Mahan, chowing down on his taco.

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