Video: Inside Google’s Self-Driving Cars

At the TED 2011 conference this week, Google has been giving extremely rare demos of its self-driving cars. TED attendees have even been allowed to travel inside them, on a closed course. Below, some video of the action.

Google’s Robot Cars

Google’s Sebastian Thrun, the software engineer who heads the project, gave a short talk at TED in Long Beach, California, about the effort — including a touching opening about how he was influenced to research ways to make driving safer by after a childhood friend had been killed by a car.

Thrun showed a video montage of the auto-driving cars on regular roads that was pretty amazing. You could see the cars avoiding things like a deer that dashed in front of one or another making it carefully around a small hillside road, as a large truck came toward it.

Real Life Demos On Closed Course

Outside the TED event, Google used a nearby parking lot to give people first-hand demos of the driverless cars. Here’s video that I shot of one of the cars zooming around the lot:

The car is going so fast because Google specifically programmed it to do so, in this case. Normally, it wouldn’t be making all those squeals and cornering so hard. But because it’s on a closed course, Google choose to demo that it can drive aggressively, if needed. You’ll notice the operator driving it at the very end, and that’s because the automated route ends a bit further back from the loading area.

The robo-car knows the route it’s supposed to follow, in this case. It needs a special route programmed, because there are no roads to follow. If it were on a regular street, typically a destination would be programmed in as with a GPS, a general route computed, and then the car would navigate. It has even driven routes from San Francisco to Los Angeles, all through automation, Google says.

View From Inside

Below is the trip I took inside the automated car. There’s a safety driver next to me, but once the car goes to automatic, he’s simply a passenger:

For more about the project, see the excellent New York Times article that we covered in October, which is a great overview, as well as Google’s own post about the technology.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Cars | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Nuroongi

    What does this news have to do with search engines? Does Google involved with it make the news automatically entitled to getting featured at SEL?

  • jsteele823

    I wonder how it does in the dark…..

  • Danny Sullivan

    Nuroongi, if in the future, you get into your auto-driving car, and along the way it suggests places for you to stop because it analyzes businesses along the way, that’s a search activity.

    Sometimes, things that you don’t think are search-like can turn out to be. Facebook, Twitter — we covered them early on, because they were starting to reach into search — and more and more, they’ve been part of that. Android — while it’s a mobile operating system — also plays a big role in search. Understanding it helps you better understand what Google is doing in search.

    But mainly in this case, I happened to be able to try one of the cars — there’s little to do with search, but I still figured people would find it interesting. I think we had like 10 other items that were all purely about search the day I quickly wrote this up, so I figure people will figure a little fun in the news. And yes, believe me, there is plenty that Google does that has nothing to do with search that we completely ignore.

    Jsteele, it seems to drive just fine in the dark, based on the video they were showing.

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