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Automobiles are finally on their way to living up to their name. What was once a crazy idea about cars driving themselves on the street is now, still crazy, but slowly becoming reality. We can attribute this auto industry milestone to a few people who took the bold initiative to make history.
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
Science-fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov was arguably the first person to suggest the possibility of self-driving cars and earliest contributor to the movement. Fifty years, and one month, ago, Isaac visited the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City and left more inspired than ever. He wrote an essay for the New York Times imagining the fair fifty years in the future in 2014. Isaac was off by a year, since there were no scheduled fairs in 2013 or 2014 and starts off again in 2015, but one of his predictions was bizarrely accurate. He wrote:
“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.”
Isaac’s vision is steadily unraveling with the help and efforts of Google.
Eric Schmidt (1955-)
The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, publicly hinted at the first intentions of Google’s involvement with the future of self-driving cars during his annual press talk in 2010.
The sooner we can get cars to drive for us the more lives we can save … self-driving cars should become the predominant mode of transportation in our lifetime.”
During the time of the conference, ideas were still up in the air, prototypes were “not yet ready for productization”, and the cars faced all kinds of challenges, including state approvals and speed limits.
Sebastian Thrun (1967-)
Another spawn and fundamental of Google is Sebastian Thrun, a robotics developer, programmer, Research professor, and Google’s very own engineer. Sebastian was first exposed to self-driving cars through the DARPA Grand Challenges, an American prize competition for autonomous vehicles for military use. He and his team back in Stanford University were inspired by the demise of the hundreds of entries, and developed the very first car to ever return from a DARPA challenge, winning Stanford 2 million dollars. Sebastian now leads the self-driving car project in Google. Having lost his best friend to a car accident when he was 18, his aspiration to save lives is his strongest incentive.
Chris is currently the director of Google’s self-driving car project. He describes the prototype as “fault-tolerant architecture” that goes beyond conventional safety. The priorities of the project can be summed up into one: safety. Every element of the vehicle was premeditated to assure the protection of the “driver”, surrounding drivers, and pedestrians. For Eric, Sebastian, Chris, and all the others working on the development of the prototypes, an ideal utopian society will no longer be flooded with shocking statistics of drunk driving accidents, distracted driving, speeding collisions, or unnecessary fatalities.