We're used to robots -- in their place. Think of a car factory; the image that comes to mind is probably not the assembly line of yore, but instead pivoting robot arms doing mind-numbingly repetitive tasks with great precision. But other than vacuum cleaners and the odd robotic pet, robots are mostly absent from our daily lives. Are we ready for that to change, with robots sharing our highways and homes? We'd better be, because they're coming.
On May 7, Nevada became the first state to issue a license for self-driven cars. These Google-developed cars are also known as autonomous vehicles, but make no mistake: They are robots.
The Google robot cars drive themselves using an onboard computer, cameras and a Velodyne 64-beam laser range finder mounted on the roof. This constantly creates a detailed 3D map of the environment. The car then combines its "vision" of its surroundings with GPS data to drive itself while avoiding obstacles and respecting traffic laws.
Why does Google think we need robot cars? As Jay Nancarrow, a Google spokesperson, explained, "Over 1.2 million people are killed in traffic worldwide every year, and we think autonomous technology can significantly reduce that number."