Steve Mahan is just like everyone else with a car. He likes to hop in the driver’s seat on a sunny California day and hit the drive-thru for a taco on his way to the dry cleaners. Unlike most drivers, Steve Mahan has lost 95% of his vision and is legally blind, but thanks to Google he is on his way to not being restricted the way he has been for much of his life.
Using a carefully pre-programmed route and with the help of a large technical team, Steve and the Google team performed the routine driving that many people take for granted. They grabbed their tacos. They picked up Steve’s dry cleaning. They did it in a specially-designed Toyota Prius self-driving car.
These cars have been in testing as part of the Google project since 2010 and have compiled over 200,000 miles or computer-led driving. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as these vehicles will have to not just meet but exceed the driving “skill” requirements of their human-driven counterparts. Using lasers and radar, the vehicle is able to “see” more than most humans can from all angles at once. The biggest challenge is in interpretation of the data to create proper reactions to a nearly-infinite range of potential circumstances that humans can deal with instinctively and with practice.
Someday, we may see more like Steve receive empowerment through Google’s or someone else’s vision of a driverless car, but today we can at least get a glimpse of what that future may hold.