Google's self-driving car turns out to be a very smart ride

Google’s self-driving car is an ambitious project that hopes to end human error behind the wheel with a very Googley solution: software. The tech titan’s robo-cars have logged more than 700,000 hours since it began working on the vehicles in 2009. Google expects to have them ready for public use between 2017 and 2020.
At the heart of the technology, what separates it from other sensor-driven autonomous vehicle projects, is a Google-made topographical map that gives the car a sense of what it should expect. The map, different from Google Maps, includes the height of the traffic signals above the street, the placement of stop signs and crosswalks, the depth of the sidewalk curb, the width of the lanes, and can differentiate lane markings from white and dashed to double-yellow.
The cars depend on this prebuilt map, which is why their urban excursions are limited to Mountain View for now. The goal is to wean the car off such heavy reliance on the map in the future.
The driving teams spend nearly eight hours a day, every day in Google’s two dozen self-driving cars. The driving pair performs two tasks. As you’d expect, they’re there to take control of the car in case of an emergency. There’s even a large, custom red button about 2 inches across and mounted to the right of the gear shift that can be hit to disable autonomous control instantly.
The second task is to track the car’s progress. While the driver sits in the driver’s seat, hands and feet idle except when called upon to take over from the computer, the co-driver sits with a laptop displaying the real-time wireframe of the world around them, as constructed by the roof-mounted Lidar. The co-driver logs both well-executed maneuvers and situations where the car could do better. That information is then fed over a high-latency mobile data connection into a database that is used to improve how all the cars handle road situations.
Google has been operating the cars in a gray area, as autonomous cars have not been explicitly addressed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). As of September 16 of this year, new regulations take effect stating the requirements for testing autonomous cars in California. Further, the DMV is developing rules for the public’s use of autonomous cars, expected to be ready by January 1, 2015.
source: c/net

briservGoogle's self-driving car turns out to be a very smart ride