Google Hasn't Lost Its Drive

Carl Weinschenk
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Nine Great Innovations, Opportunities and Challenges for 2012

A volatile 2012 is expected with pockets of great innovation, opportunity and new successes, as well as challenges.

Once in a while, a story posts somewhere (or, more likely, in a number of places) that is a stretch to be covered in a blog that has a mandate of covering mobile communications. A while ago, for instance, I wrote about robots that used mobile technology and were unnervingly lifelike. The news this time is that the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has awarded Google a license to a self-driven automobile.

As in the use of robotics (and augmented reality, another peripheral topic), autonomous vehicles (AVs) are very cool. And, like with the others, there is a real rationale for its coverage here: It's Google, it will aid in employee mobility and it uses mobile technology. In a very real sense, this is great news. It stands to reason that autonomous vehicles will enable employees who can't drive to become, for the first time, road warriors.


The story says that Google claims that its AVs have driven more than 200,000 safely in California. That leads to one of the comic elements:

The only publicly reported accident involving a Google driverless car to date occurred last year when a human driver was behind the wheel.

A commentary by embedded element consultant Jack Ganssle in EE Times was written with some authority. The guy actually built a primitive automatic vehicle for a high school science project. He counsels caution.

Ganssle doesn't cite the admirable record of the search engines on wheels (particularly when not driven by a human) but makes what seems like a very strong point. Computers are great when dealing with other entities that are logical. That group doesn't include a lot of the folks who are on the road today. The streets don't devolve to chaos and anarchy every day because the half of folks on the road who do pay attention to where they are going and how fast they are getting there are very adept at avoiding those who don't.

The government was instrumental in the development of the Internet and are knee-deep in current issues such as telecommuting and IPv6. They also are involved in AV development. It makes extra sense when the core use of the technology - moving safely through war zones such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq - are considered. The Chicago Tribune has an interesting piece on various machines, including drones, AV and mine-exploding robots, that are making things a tad safer. Automated vehicles have promise, the story says:

Only now is robotics research nearing the stage that the military may soon be able to deploy large ground vehicles capable of performing tasks on their own with little human involvement. The results, among other things, could be more saved lives, less wear and tear on the troops, and reduced fuel consumption.

Driverless vehicles undoubtedly use many of the tools that are common today, including GPS and cameras. While there is a certain amount of entertainment value, such as whether the default setting on the vehicles is to not text while moving, this is a very serious and potentially positive step.

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