In line with Google's efforts to "solve really big problems using technology," the Internet giant revealed that it has been testing technology for cars that can drive themselves. The program comes as a part of an effort by the company to fundamentally change the way that our transportation infrastructure functions, evolving it into something much more efficient, safe and green.
According to Google's official blog, it has been testing the automated cars for some time now. The cars have logged over 140,000 miles and have driven everywhere from Hollywood Boulevard to the Pacific Coast Highway and the Golden Gate Bridge. Using video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see," the automated cars are able to steer through traffic and through the use of detailed maps, navigate the road ahead.

The company has said that none of the vehicles involved in testing have caused accidents; one vehicle was involved in an accident, but only because someone rear-ended the Google vehicle while it was stopped at a traffic light. One vehicle managed to pilot Lombard Street in San Francisco, long known as the "crookedest road in America."

Google believes that this technology has the potential to create the "trains of tomorrow," which will drastically reduce the amount of deaths on the road while improving efficiency by cutting out the average 52 minutes the average person spends commuting every day.

As forward-looking as the company's efforts are, however, they are far from being original. GM, for instance, has their own take on this, which, they claim, could put driverless cars on the road by 2018. Other manufacturers have worked on similar smart grids using telematics and driverless controls.

Every year, this kind of technology is showcased at the DARPA Grand Challenge, which is a prize competition for driverless vehicles and is sponsored by the U.S. government. It has been around since 2004 and has displays large pools of autonomous cars made by teams from high schools, universities and businesses. Google's lead engineer for their current car project is Sebastian Thrun, winner of DARPA's autonomous driving challenge in 2005. He's also the co-inventor of the Street View mapping product.

As one of the most successful companies in the world with very deep pockets and access to some of the brightest minds in technology, it is encouraging to see these private resources being put towards progress in automotive technology.