What's it like inside Google's self-driving cars? (VIDEO)


[Video Link]

Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land is at the TED 2011 conference in Long Beach, where Google gave rare demos of its auto-driving car. Danny captured this video from inside the car. The vehicle was making extreme and fast turns unlike it would on regular roads because it was on a closed course, demonstrating the full range of its capabilities. Read more about the demo here on Danny's site, with more video.


  1. You’ll notice that when anything fun starts to happen the vehicle stability control beeps and cuts throttle. I had to disable that feature on my Toyota because it was driving me insane (literally). Self driving cars are nifty, but driving is one of the great pleasures of my life and I’ll never hand it over to a robit.

  2. It looks like Google Auto-Drive is akin to allowing your 17 year old son to go on a joyride…
    yikes – that’ll put some wear and tear on a car.

  3. The idea isn’t necessarily to REPLACE humans, but instead to allow for the option of true self driving cars. Yes, squealing around twisty bends is fun when driving “by hand”. A slogging commute to work every day in traffic is not.

    I assume they set up the course and relatively high speed maneuvering to demonstrate that the system can drive without creeping slowly like some previous “auto drive” systems have done.

    1. I have a slogging commute to work in traffic every day. I’m not comfortable handing over control of my car to Google, but I would be very happy if everyone else on the road did.
      Honestly, a long commute isn’t bad most of the time. There are a few times each month where it’s just a horrible experience, but most days I rather enjoy spending a few hours driving. It provides a distinct transition between work and home, it forces me to engage with the world in an invigorating manner, it gives me a chance to enjoy audio-only content with minimal interruption, and it routinely supplies evidence reaffirming my sense of being a better person than the vast majority of humans.
      I suppose it would be nice to be able to just nod off and let Google do their thing to my car, but I really believe it would ruin the enjoyability of the commuter experience in a fundamental way.

      I think a system like this could be very useful for combating traffic jams. One thing my epic commute has taught me is that most traffic jams result entirely from human behavior, and that the most annoying thing about traffic jams results entirely from human behavior. If Google’s system could detect certain driving behaviors (e.g. stop and go traffic, driving too close to others, driving at a significantly different speed from others, etc.) and then offer to take over driving temporarily it would radically improve the dissipation rate of traffic jams.

      1. Yes, this is always one of the main promises of self-driving cars: theoretically, self-driving cars with great collision-avoidance should be able to drive much faster and much closer to each other in traffic than humans normally do. So if everyone were in self-driving cars (and the total numbers of cars on the road stayed the same) we’d have much less traffic on the highways.

        Another thing that would really improve on this is if there were wireless communication between the cars. Since there are hardly any self-driving cars out yet, this is obviously not going to happen for some time, but if the car 30 cars forward could quickly send a message out to the cars behind it that it was slowing down rapidly, the other cars would be able to do so as well, instead of only taking their cues from one or two cars ahead as we do now.

        I’m not certain whether, in the long run, these things are good for the environment. If the cars all drive more efficiently, then it’s a plus, but if this puts twice as many cars on the road (because driving becomes so much easier and faster for those who might otherwise take the train) then this might end up being a negative.

        1. “I’m not certain whether, in the long run, these things are good for the environment.”

          Yes, cars will never be the most efficient mode of transportation available to us, but you’re still thinking too short-term. Once you get to the point where almost all cars are self-driving, car design itself will change. Much of the mass in a modern car exists to protect you in the event of a crash. If all cars coordinated their movements, then cars would almost never crash- so cars could be made much lighter. This would immediately increase efficiency, while also making it easier and cheaper to move away from gasoline.

  4. It may have been a closed course but it looks like one wrong turn and it could’ve headed through the police tape and down into the parking garage.

  5. I’ve always wanted my own KITT (either that or teleportation); this would be great for those 8 hour long, boring drives like I used to have driving on I-5 from the east bay to San Diego.

  6. awesome, except for the part where it went MANUAL while still going 10mph towards a large post. That part worried me.

    1. To be fair, he did just say that the flags indicated the end of the course, so presumably the “driver” felt safe taking the car out of self-drive so that maybe it didn’t just stop after the flags.

  7. Perhaps in the future you’ll need a special license to drive manually, and robot driving will be the norm. People will get busted for trying to “jailbreak” their robot cars for manual operation, or something.

  8. When I read about them secretly testing the self-driving cars, it was one of those things I believed intellectually, but emotionally felt “there’s no way this could possibly be true”.

    Holy crap.

    Also, what mdh said.. “manual” should not even be an option here unless the car is stopped, and it had better be able to stop safely. If you think people fall asleep at the wheel a lot now, wait until they aren’t required to be constantly driving them.

  9. Did anyone else notice the flux capacitor power up & power down sounds at the beginning and end of the run? NICE TOUCH! Now if only we can get that search engine up to 88mph…

  10. What a coincidence. I was having a conversation about self-driving cars just the other day.

    Mayhaps for major routes they could put in or designate automatic lanes and leave the rest to the manual users? I think it’d be great to be able to do a long commute without actually wasting all the time you spend on the commute.


  11. It would be more impressive if it were filmed from the back seat with no one in the drivers seat. This just looks like a trip around an obstacle course. But i’m in favor of anything that lets us drink in the car.

  12. The video looks like it’s rendered. Has it been touched up, or does California simply look like a video game?

    1. does California simply look like a video game?

      Guilty as charged.

      Personally, I look forward to the entertainment value of such a system. Install it in a 1977 Trans Am, a 1968 Charger, and maybe a 1951 Mercury lead sled and make a 21st century Hal Needham movie. Enter “Watson” in a NASCAR race. Hell, that’d be shooting fish in a barrel; replace all the drivers with this system, ditch the Car of Tomorrow for actual manufacturer-specific models once again, and turn the suckers loose. On Saturday nights, install some Death Race / Robot Wars hardware on them.

      And hand me another beer.

  13. One piece for my dream car down. Now for the rest;

    •space frame construction with bolt-on recycled HDPE body panels (with optional integral flex-cell PVs) and velcro-mounted interior fabric covering. This supports quick repair, full cleaning, and free customization. To hell at last with the pressed steel welded unibody and its built-in obsolescence.

    •body design like the Playsam Streamliner or Ford 021C. (the only intelligent concept design that company produced in at least the past four decades…)

    •electric drive train using in-wheel motors with recyclable polyurethane tweels.

    •all electric or microturbine hybrid power plant with modular core hardware on slide-out mount.

    •exploiting the virtues of an electric drive train, fully flat floor with T-slot deck to accommodate free reconfiguration and easy accommodation of wheelchairs, cargo holders, tables or other fixtures, and -of course- personal robots.

    •since it would be self-driving and minimize interior volume for the power plant, an option to switch between ‘captain’s chair’ seating and a wrap-around couch-seating arrangement with one or two full-side Disappearing Car Doors. Further exploiting the T-slot deck flooring, other options would allow for temporary adaptation for cargo handling, camping, high and low density seating, specialized child seats, entertainment systems, personal computers, and so on. It should be a true flex-vehicle.

    Let’s get with the damned 21st century already.

  14. Two things that worry me:

    I’m a bicyclist and today’s humans have a hard time seeing me. I really try to be seen, too.

    It’s pothole season where I am. Where I live, that’s at least two seasons a year. Lots of mean, nasty, huge potholes. And cracks running the width of interstates are shifting their peaks and troughs for the same reason. Cars sometimes need humans to be careful with them, very VERY careful. Programed speed limits for robots won’t often do that.

    1. I’m a bicyclist and today’s humans have a hard time seeing me. I really try to be seen, too.

      Actually, this is the one thing I look forward to with self-driving cars.

      I think that, surprisingly enough, the car sensors will be significantly better at picking out easy-to-miss bicyclists. Humans have way too much of a filter when they are looking at roads over a steering wheel: “car, car, irrelevant, car, red light, car, irrelevant.” I think that many people’s brains literally do not process bikes even when they look right at them. This explains how it is that cars make a left-turn and simply slam right into the bike coming down towards them on the other lane, in clear daylight. They were looking for cars, and ignored anything that wasn’t a car.

      The sensors don’t have those biases. A small moving object is extremely significant to a sensor.

      NB: They also don’t rage when they see bikes, froth at the mouth when they see messenger bags, or descend into a red haze when they see someone without a helmet and think to themselves “well that kid ought to be taught a lesson.” (Yes. I have a low opinion of a small but non-zero percentage of drivers.)

  15. “does California simply look like a video game?”

    I’m not sure what you mean, but if you’re asking if this area of Long Beach really looks like this, yes it does. I used to live about three blocks away.

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