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Driverless Cars Will Save Lives

John Rentoul

driverless 300x241 Driverless Cars Will Save LivesFabulous long article by Burkhard Bilger in The New Yorker: 11,000 words on Google’s ambition to make driverless cars.

He quotes Sergei Brin, one of Google’s founders: “We’re not trying to fit into an existing business model. We are just on such a different planet.”

“In God we trust,” the company faithful like to say. “Everyone else, bring data.”

Bilger gets to try one out, and it is just like a normal car, apart from the laser turret on the roof and a Doctor Who touch inside:

The only jarring element was the big red knob between the seats. “That’s the master kill switch,” Levandowski said. “We’ve never actually used it.”

But it is going to be a hard sell with actual car makers:

Toyota’s customers are a conservative bunch, less concerned with style than with comfort. “They tend to have a fairly long adoption curve,” Jim Pisz, the corporate manager of Toyota’s North American business strategy, told me. “It was only five years ago that we eliminated cassette players.”

Finally, Anthony Levandowski, the Google car man, tells Bilger about a crash his fiancée had been in three years ago:

“That accident never should have happened,” Levandowski told me. If the car behind Olsen had been self-driving, it would have seen the obstruction three cars ahead. It would have calculated the distance to impact, scanned the neighboring lanes, realized it was boxed in, and hit the brakes, all within a tenth of a second. The Google car drives more defensively than people do: it tailgates five times less, rarely coming within two seconds of the car ahead. Under the circumstances, Levandowski says, our fear of driverless cars is increasingly irrational. “Once you make the car better than the driver, it’s almost irresponsible to have him there,” he says. “Every year that we delay this, more people die.”

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  • chrishaines47

    Has Lebedev Jr got his Knighthood yet?

  • Pacificweather

    How is the car going to know where to go? Can we afford the the fuel to go 20 miles in the wrong direction because the satnav has incomplete data? Will the car know if it is safe or not to ford a stream? Will it allow an extra three seconds because the car in front is an old beater with a bunch of teenagers in it or pull over because they are coming up behind you? Questions to which the answer is no are never ending.


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