Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cars That Drive Themselves: Google 2010; and 1958

"Google Isn't The First To Dream Of Robotic Cars"
NPR (October 15, 2010)

"In May 1958, Popular Science published an article titled 'The Car that Drives Itself: The Car in Your Future Will Be Run By Black Boxes While You Watch.' Sound familiar? Harry McCracken, founder and editor of, discusses Google's self-piloted car, and dreams that came before it...."

There's more: a transcript of the interview, and the interview itself.

And a somewhat persnickety (in the Lemming's opinion) copyright statement. Since it looks like the statement applies to the interview transcript, I'm risking that excerpt from the page's introduction.

The Lemming had noticed Google's 'new' idea of cars with auto pilots earlier, but figured that if I waited long enough, someone else would do the legwork and look up who came up with the idea of 'automatic' cars. And sure enough, someone delivered. NPR, as it happens.

From the looks of it, Google's gadget actually does drive a car in real traffic. With a human along, to take over if necessary.

Which apparently wasn't all that often.

Technologizer, discussed in the NPR interview, gives a look at automated cars, 1958 style:

"Look Ma, No Hands! A Brief History of Self-Driving Cars"
Harry McCracken, Technologizer (October 9, 2010)

"Less than two weeks ago, I attended a talk by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Schmidt spoke about a profoundly computer-augmented future, and said that there was no reason why super-safe self-driving cars couldn’t be built–in fact, he said he couldn’t understand why humans were allowed to drive automobiles at all. (As is fairly common with Schmidt comments, it wasn’t entirely clear where that comment sat on the continuum from utter frivolity to deadly seriousness.)..."

The Lemming isn't entirely comfortable with the word "deadly" in a sentence dealing with urban traffic - but that's a quibble.

Of the two, I recommend the Technologizer article: not so much because that outfit is less afraid of publicity, as the lack of 'social commentary,' or what ever it's called these days.

As the Lemming's discussed before, I'm 'apathetic' only in a rather restricted sense of the term.

Seriously, though: Harry McCracken does a pretty good job of discussing more-or-less 'automatic' cars from the earlier 20th century up to this month's news.

The Lemming's take on what Google and others are doing? With commercial artificial intelligence ranging from none-too-bright robotic floor cleaners (January 30, 2009) to Fenway, the hospital helper (September 21, 2010), and Robovie-II able to help with shopping (January 7, 2010): Robotic cars don't seem all that unlikely.

On the other hand, there are still issues like reliability. What impressed the Lemming was that Google and others had gotten processing speed for 'smart cars' up to practical levels.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

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