December 16, 2011
Patent Awarded To Google For Self-Driving Cars
A blog post last year from Google left many wondering what the internet search giant was up to when it said they were hiring vehicle engineers with the goal of enhancing the state of driverless cars, Martin LaMonica reports for CNET.
The question of how robot vehicles would enhance its business was not elaborated on at the time but software engineer Sebastian Thrun said that the company´s goal is to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people´s time, and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”
It appears now, that Google is making good on its goals, when earlier this week a patent, called Transitioning a Mixed-mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode, was granted for a method of controlling an autonomous vehicle, specifically, detailing how a vehicle can transition from being human-driven to autonomous, or self-controlling mode.
The patent, applied for in May but hidden from public view until this week, explains how the car would know when to take switch to autonomous mode by its location and direction, BBC News is reporting.
The document describes using a “landing strip,” which can be embedded road sensors or mounted RFD tags or barcodes. When the vehicle stops, a second set of instructions informing the car where it is positioned and where it should go.
“The landing strip allows a human driving the vehicle to know acceptable parking places for the vehicle,” the patent filing says. “Additionally, the landing strip may indicate to the vehicle that it is parked in a region where it may transition into autonomous mode.”
So what are the practical applications for such a system? The search firm suggests the technology could be used to offer tours of tourist locations or to send faulty models to repair shops, or simply move to another parking bay to ensure a rental company had its cars spread evenly across its various pick-up spots.
Despite the pie-in-the-sky nature of such a project, Google has been testing a fleet of driverless cars for several years.
Traveling along Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge and elsewhere, Google tested the cars with two humans on board at the time. One to oversee the driving and intervene if necessary, the other to monitor the equipment from the passenger seat.
Google has also successfully lobbied the state of Nevada to pass a law requiring its Department of Transportation to create rules and regulations for autonomous vehicles on its highways.
Engineers claim that automated systems controlling the vehicles can react more quickly than humans, reducing the number of road accidents and more cars could be on the road at the same time, driving closer together, increasing road capacity.
“Google believe it is a technology that is here and now and will start appearing in motorcars in the near future,” said Professor Alan Woodward from the department of computing at the University of Surrey.
“We already have systems that park your cars for you and automatically brake - the next obvious step is to have cars take over the routine driving. Google has funded a lot of this work at universities. Not surprisingly, if they think it is going to be big they want to patent it.”
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