Google has revealed major successes in the field of vehicle automation, claiming that cars based on its automatic driving software have logged over 140,000 hours on normal roads.
The company said that one car had recently driven from Google's Mountain View campus to the Santa Monica office and onto Hollywood Boulevard.
"We've always been optimistic about technology's ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars beyond where they are today," said Sebastian Thrun, a distinguished software engineer at Google, in a blog post.
"While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting."
The cars use built-in video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to identify road markings and navigate traffic. However, it appears that the road has to be driven beforehand by a human driver to identify waypoints before the car can navigate itself.
Thrun stressed that the cars have a trained safety driver behind the wheel at all times, and that local police have always been notified when vehicles have been on the road.
Google hired a highly respected development team to build the automated vehicle's systems, including Chris Urmson, leader of the winning Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) 2007 Urban Challenge team, and Mike Montemerlo, software head of the team from Stanford that won the 2005 Darpa Grand Challenge.
Also included is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world's first autonomous motorcycle and a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside.
The Google team wants eventually to build software that allows cars to use roads much more efficiently, reducing the effects of traffic congestion, cutting commuting times and saving lives.
Much of the current progress in vehicle automation has been driven by Darpa, which has held a series of public competitions to develop automatic cars, with millions of dollars in prizes.
Darpa, which is funded by the US Department of Defense, is now funding similar challenges in urban environments with actual traffic, as well as military vehicles for mundane resupply work.
The organisation has said that it would like a quarter of all military vehicles to be automated by 2030, and the first prototypes have already been built.
Meanwhile, General Motors has said that it expects fully automatic cars to be on the road within the next eight years or sooner.
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