The Trick That Makes Google’s Self-Driving Cars Work

Alexis Madrigal:

Google’s self-driving cars can tour you around the streets of Mountain View, California.

I know this. I rode in one this week. I saw the car’s human operator take his hands from the wheel and the computer assume control. “Autodriving,” said a woman’s voice, and just like that, the car was operating autonomously, changing lanes, obeying traffic lights, monitoring cyclists and pedestrians, making lefts. Even the way the car accelerated out of turns felt right. […]

But there’s a catch. 

Today, you could not take a Google car, set it down in Akron or Orlando or Oakland and expect it to perform as well as it does in Silicon Valley.

Here’s why: Google has created a virtual track out of Mountain View. 

This is what I mean about these cars being a concept, not a real product. These cars are only real in the sense that a ride at Disney World is real. They’ve built a very clever Mountain View-size 25 MPH theme park attraction. Google could well be the company that eventually does make real self-driving cars, but they aren’t today. Who is to say that the cars they do have today are not to self-driving cars what the Microsoft Surface (the table-size one, not today’s tablets) was to touchscreen computing?

Show me something produced at mass market scale and price, which people can and want to buy.

Sunday, 1 June 2014