Could Google Patent Begin the Era of Self-Driving Cars?

By Joseph Mandour on December 15, 2011

traffic-200x150Los Angeles – On December 13, 2011, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Google, Inc. a patent (U.S. Pat. No. 8,078,349) that allows a mixed-model car to transition from a human driver to an automous, self-driving car. Google believes this technology will allow for optimal fuel efficiency in cars and reduce traffic accidents by half.

In developing its self-driving car technology, Google employs a multi-layered approach to prevent the self-driving car from being reliant on just one component. First, the self-driving car is equipped with a roof-mounted range finder, a Velodyne 64-beam laser device that has a navigation system built in. Next, the car contains front and rear radar systems to calibrate the car’s movement in relation to other cars on the road and a camera inside the rear-view mirror to read traffic lights. Finally, the car is equipped with a GPS system that continuously monitors the car’s movement and location. Google contends this “multi-layered” approach constantly gives feedback between the car’s old and current position and ensures safety for the driver and passengers. Google believes that the computer-operated systems in the self-driving car will allow it to react to any sudden changes on the road faster and more effectively than its human counterpart.

The ultimate test for self-driving cars will be up to consumers and how safe they feel. During testing of Google’s self-driving car at its Mountain View headquarters, Google reported that an accident occurred with another human-driven vehicle. While no injuries occurred and Google quietly placed the blame on the human-driven car, it does show that there will be some speedbumps in the future for the development of self-driving cars. How do insurance companies insure a self-driving car? By the driver or the company whose technology drives the self-driving car? In an accident between two self-driving cars, who becomes responsible, especially if injuries result? These questions and others will certainly play out in the coming years as we embark on the world of the hands free car.

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