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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inside Google's Self-Driving Toyota Prius

The self-driving car that Google revealed to the world last October made an appearance at TED on Thursday, with Sebastian Thrun, one of the developers of the project, speaking to the audience and then taking attendees for a test drive.

The folks at Mashable got the opportunity to ride along as the car whipped around a test track set up outside the conference. Riding at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, the vehicle maneuvered its way between dozens of test cones that had been set up, making a combination of hard stops, tight turns and quick accelerations.

Not a single cone was hit, and I can verify that the driver did not touch the wheel until the very end to drop myself and two other passengers off (this was planned).

The car itself traveled from San Francisco to Long Beach, California, for the conference as part of Google’s ongoing tests. While Thrun tells me he thinks we’ll see self-driving cars in the hands of consumers within our lifetimes, he notes that at this time, “It’s really just a science project … pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. It’s clearly not something that’s going to make us money any time soon.”

Limitations of the vehicle currently include dealing with weather, as well as capturing the imagery and data necessary to allow the car to do things such as stop at red lights and observe speed limits (most of this work has been limited to the Bay Area for now).

Nonetheless, one can’t help be impressed by what Google has accomplished thus far, with its test drive clearly set up to show off just how far along the technology is.

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