Almost Ready for Prime Time?Google has been working on self-driving cars for a while now, and they seem to be making good progress. They've now reached a new milestone: 300,000 miles have been driven by the autonomous test vehicles without a single accident while under computer control (they've apparently had minor accidents caused by human error -- if I remember correctly, another car hit them from behind while they were stopped at a red light). That's impressive, almost science-fiction worthy stuff!
Most of the Google robot-cars have been Prius hybrids, but as you can see in the photo above, there's a new model in the family, a Lexus RX450h hybrid. It'll be used for different kinds of testing in different environments.
We’re encouraged by this progress, but there’s still a long road ahead. To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter. As a next step, members of the self-driving car team will soon start using the cars solo (rather than in pairs), for things like commuting to work. This is an important milestone, as it brings this technology one step closer to every commuter. One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars. For now, our team members will remain in the driver’s seats and will take back control if needed. (source)
It remains to be seen how autonomous cars will be used in the future, but if things are done right, they certainly have the potential to help disabled and frail people get around more safely, to make our roads safer (as long as we can make the system less error-prone than humans), driving more fuel-efficient, and revolutionize car-sharing and taxi services. It could also make traffic jams a lot less likely by making cars adjust their speed to get optimal flow.
Of course, I'd rather see more people bike, walk, and take transit. But as long as there are cars on the road, they might as well be as smart as possible.