Google is on a roll these days when it comes to green transportation alternatives. Announcing their investment in the Shweeb just over a week ago, news just broke yesterday evening that the famed company has secretly been developing an autonomous, self-driving robot car! Still in its early stages, the robot car project has already set out a small fleet of vehicles across California roads that utilize an artificial-intelligence software able to sense anything near the car and make equivalent decisions made normally by a human driver. While the thought of mass-production in the coming months is a bit premature, this revolutionary idea could give way to incredible environmental and experiential benefits. Engineers behind Google’s project say that the technology could both double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely, comfortably and efficiently while closer together; but also allow for cars to be built lighter, in turn reducing carbon costs and fuel consumption.

Autonomous cars are years from mass production, but technologists are sure that the idea will revolutionize the world. Not only do robot drivers react faster than humans, but they have 360-degree perception and don’t get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated behind the wheel. But don’t think that you’re blindly hopping into a machine with a mind of its own – the car would also actively engage its “driver” making announcements like “approaching a crosswalk” or “turn ahead,” which engineers say would alert an individual if a master control system detected anything amiss with the various sensors. Control of the car would also still exist, where regaining power would simply mean doing one of three things: hitting a red button on the dashboard, touching the brake or turning the steering wheel.

Google has reported, thus far, they’ve driven their fleet of intelligent robot vehicles over 140,000 miles around California, challenging the car to city traffic, leisurely neighborhood rides, and most impressively, on Highway 101, the freeway through Silicon Valley where the car was able to nimbly accelerate in the entrance lane and merge into fast-moving traffic. This vehicle however is not a thrill-seeker. For the more vigilant “driver” the Google’s new system would boast the option of being programmed to different driving personalities — from cautious, in which it is more likely to yield to another car, to aggressive, where it is more likely to go first.

With this new technology there is considerable potential to reduce fuel consumption by eliminating heavy-footed drivers and to create safer conditions paving the way for the possibility for lighter weight vehicles – reducing energy costs from production to implementation. And for those who have to endure tiresome and lengthy commutes, this new car could dramatically improve the experience of driving, and more easily allow for ride-sharing as cars could be summoned electronically by different users. Moreover, as the inventory of the world’s cars are reduced, valuable land once occupied by parking spaces and the like could be reclaimed for more enriching and inviting public use.

viaThe New York Times