Google apparently has a fleet of artificially intelligent Prius hybrids on hand, according to a report in the New York Times and an official blog post from the search engine giant. The focus of this fleet of automated cars, manned by trained operators just in case, is to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”

Google said the self-driving cars, which also includes an Audi TT alongside the six Prius hybrids, have logged over 140,000 miles, using “video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to ‘see’ other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead.” Data collected by the vehicles is processed by Google’s data centers, and the technology behind all of this is said to have been developed by engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. government.

Toyota Prius
image via Toyota

Google, of course, doesn’t want to freak out other drivers on the road who might notice an unmanned car roaming the streets, so hence the trained operators just in case (local police also were told ahead of time what was being done). Also on hand is a trained software operator in the passenger seat, said Google, “to monitor the software. Any test begins by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance.”

With this technology being developed, Google added, it hopes to cut down on traffic accidents that cause fatalities. It also believes that “self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new ‘highway trains of tomorrow.’ These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads.”

The only downside to all of this? The project is just experimental at this point but, as Google puts it, this “provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting.” Here here to that.

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