There's a Toyota Prius in California, and a VW Passat halfway around the globe -- each equipped with bucket-shaped contraptions that let the cars drive themselves. Following their research on autonomous autos in the DARPA Urban Challenge, a team at Germany's TU Braunschweig let the above GPS, laser and sensor-guided Volkswagen wander down the streets of Brunswick unassisted late last week, and today Google revealed that it's secretly tested seven similar vehicles by the folks who won that same competition.
The Google research program using artificial intelligence to revolutionize the automobile is proof that the company’s ambitions reach beyond the search engine business. The program is also a departure from the mainstream of innovation in Silicon Valley, which has veered toward social networks and Hollywood-style digital media. It drove at the speed limit, which it knew because the limit for every road is included in its database, and left the freeway several exits later. The device atop the car produced a detailed map of the environment.
Besides the team of 15 engineers working on the current project, Google hired more than a dozen people, each with a spotless driving record, to sit in the driver’s seat, paying $15 an hour or more. Google is using six Priuses and an Audi TT in the project.