Blind man goes for a spin in Google’s self-driving car

April 3, 2012

Blind man goes for a spin in Google's self-driving carLegally blind Steve Mahan got to take Google’s self-driving car out for a spin.  He sat in the drivers seat and never used the pedals or the steering wheel, still he was able to run errands.  True there was someone else in the car with him holding a laptop but neither Steve nor his passenger ever touched the driving controls.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Google’s self-driving car showed off one of its many potential uses by taking a blind man to Taco Bell and to pick up his dry cleaning.  A video of the drive was posted to Google+. Helping blind individuals to obtain a new sense of independence would be welcomed by many.  No longer would they have to wait on a friend, relative or social services worker to run the type of everyday errands most of us take for granted.

"Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things," Steve Mahan says in the video.

While most of us with drivers licenses think nothing of running out for a bite to eat or changing our plans midstream, the self-driving car needs to be programmed before it will carry someone to their desired destination.  In other words it will provide a sense of independence but not complete autonomy.  You can certainly escape the house but you are still limited in what destinations you can visit. 

The drive that Steve Mahan experienced was “a carefully programmed route”.  The drive was not part of Google’s normal testing.  Google’s computer-led cars have completed 200,000 miles of self-driving safely.  There has only been one accident involving these cars and that was when an actual person was driving the car in manual mode.  Hopefully they won’t make that mistake again.

The cars use a variety of technology to be able to obey stop signs and traffic lights, avoid wrecks and actually get to a specific destination.  As previously mentioned it involves computers.  The car also navigates with a laser range finder mounted on the top of the car, a camera on the front windshield, radar sensors in the front and back bumpers, and wheel sensors.

While the current state of computer technology on the market doesn’t offer the ability to  give voice input of destinations, it probably won’t be too long until Steve is able to get into a Google self-driving car and simply tell it where he wants to go.  When that day comes many of us may opt for a self-driving car so that we can do other things while riding to work and not put others in danger. 

Some of us like the thought of a self-driving car because we have family members who have fallen asleep at the wheel.  Luckily no one was hurt but it was a close thing.  A self-driving car would keep others from being hurt if a driver is exhausted, drunk, eating, putting on makeup, texting or talking on a cell phone.


Google’s YouTube video
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2 Responses to “Blind man goes for a spin in Google’s self-driving car”

  1. Xavier:

    I am a visually impaired person living in Singapore and being able to own my own vehicle has always only been a fantasy.

    After watching Mr Steve Mahan behind the self driving car gives me hope that maybe my fantasy and lifelong dream to be able to have my own transport and not having to trouble anyone else to go places will eventually come true.

    I am looking forward to the arrival of the day when I can be the one ferrying my family around in my own car instead of having to wait for someone to drive me to places that I need to go.

  2. Joey:

    This technology is going to be great if and when it gets used in the future. Of course, there are going to have to be huge changes. One big one is how these cars communicate with each other. I’m sure many data centers are going to be built to house all the information that these cars are saving and exchanging, as well as all the maps and such required for the cars to navigate. Whats more important is that there are still things that can go wrong such as natural disasters, crashes, and people. I love the idea of this tech, and as a future electrical engineer, I hope to be able to work on some of this stuff!

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