Google’s research into self-driving cars has yielded some impressive results, even for those who can’t actually see them.
In fact, two years after the program was first announced, Google this week celebrated “200,000 miles of computer-led driving,” by posting a video of a car taking a legally blind man out on several errands as the man sat in the driver’s (driverless?) seat. The company also posted a narrated video for those with vision impairments.
The man in the driver’s seat was identified by Google as Steve Mahan, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center in San Jose, California, or “Self-Driving Car User #0000000001,” as Google also puts it, revealing the company’s ambitions to put 1 billion driverless cars on the road, eventually.
During the course of the video, Google’s driverless car takes Mahan and several passengers on a short trip out to a local Taco Bell and to a dry cleaner, where Mahan picks up his laundry. The car is able to make the journey — Google didn’t specify how many miles, but it involved several stops, turns, parking and other nuanced driving mechanics — using radar, lasers and other motion sensors to detect features of the road and other vehicles or pedestrians.
“Look ma, no hands…or feet!” Mahan exclaims early on in the video, later saying “95 percent of my vision is gone, I’m well past legally blind,” and of the car: “Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things.”
The car was a modified Toytota Prius, although Google didn’t work with Toyota on the video, a Google spokseperson told TPM.
Google sources further told TPM that the test drive took place in nearby Morgan Hill, California, and was filmed in conjunction with the Morgan Hill police department. A Morgan Hill police sergeant accompanied Mahan in the car, as Fox News first reported, while a Google engineer sat in the passenger’s seat in case the car needed to make an emergency stop (it didn’t).
A Google spokesperson told TPM that the company can’t yet comment on any dates for the system’s appearance on the consumer market, but sufficed to say that based on the results, the system is already quite advanced, despite a reported driverless car accident involving other, manned cars in August 2011.