Google Car (aka Johnny Cab)

I’m sure everyone remembers Arnold’s ride in a Johnny Cab in Total Recall. The directors even then understood that a human being would be unlikely to get into a car without a driver, give it directions and then sit back and relax as the car sped through city traffic without a scratch or dent. That’s why Johnny (the mechanical half-man on a stick with a smart mouth) had to be there.

I’m not exactly sure that it ended so well for Johnny, but the boffins at Google have taken the idea and put it on the road – literally.

There is no steering-wheel in the Google Car , no pedals and it carries two passengers at a staggering speed of 25mph for a distance of about 100 miles. (in miles until it leaves Google Headquarters).

A smartphone interface calls the Google Car to the passenger’s location. A  start button gets you going and a big red emergency stop button supposedly stops you. To while away the time, passengers can view a small screen that shows the weather, the current speed and a small countdown animation to launch. In the model I saw, there was no ‘Jesus strap’ visible, but that’s not to say that there isn’t one.

The Google Car is powered by an electric motor and the car uses a combination of sensors and software to locate itself in the real world. A GPS helps target the car by satellite and then  radar, lasers and cameras take over to monitor the world around the car from all angles. The software recognises objects, people, cars, road marking, signs and traffic lights. Unlike Johnny, the Google Car obeys the rules of the road and allows for multiple unpredictable hazards, including cyclists. It can even detect road works and safely navigate around them. I’d be interested how it reacts to a request to pop into the driveway of a fast food joint.

Once the journey is done, you’re reminded to take your belongings and luggage (yes, there is room in the boot for 2 cans of soda and a small handbag) and be on your way. It’s clear that this Google Car is destined to be a replacement for the taxi services, not personal vehicles. I wonder when Google will decide to bow to pressure and install Johnny on the dashboard?

Stay tuned – the next instalment could arrive by Johnny Cab.