Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here

As we drive the Google car—or are driven by it—I watch the action unfold on the computer monitor mounted on the passenger side of the dashboard. It shows how the car is interpreting the world: lanes, signs, cars, speeds, distances, vectors. The rendering is nothing special—a lot of blocky wireframe that puts me in mind of Atari’s classic Battlezone. (The display is just one of a host of geeky details—to change lanes, for instance, the driver presses buttons marked Shift and Left on a keyboard near the monitor.) Yet it is absolutely fascinating, almost illicitly thrilling, to watch as the car not only plots and calculates the myriad movements of neighboring vehicles in the moment but also predicts where they will be in the future, like high-speed, mobile chess. Onscreen, the car is constantly “acquiring” targets, surrounding them in red boxes, tracing raster lines to and fro, a freeway version of John Madden’s Telestrator. “We’re analyzing and predicting the world 20 times a second,” Levandowski says.

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