After attending the 1964 World’s Fair, the science-fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote an essay in The New York Times imagining a visit to the World’s Fair 50 years in the future, in 2014. Among his predictions: “Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with ‘robot-brains’—vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”
Asimov got some of the details wrong (he thought the cars would ride suspended on compressed air), but most of his prediction proved accurate: much effort is, indeed, now being put into the design of robot cars, thanks largely to Google. Earlier this year, the company revealed a prototype of a fully driverless car, an adorable machine without a steering wheel or pedals that tooled around its campus in Mountain View, California.
Google’s achievement draws on the ideas of computer scientists, roboticists, and automotive engineers who have been working on autonomous vehicles for decades. And the goal is not just to realize our science-fiction dreams: driverless cars might alleviate congestion, ease demand for parking, and reduce crashes, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
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