updated 05:00 pm EST, Thu December 15, 2011
Google granted patent for autonomous cars
Google has been awarded a US patent for driverless cars, dubbed the Transitioning a Mixed-mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode. The intellectual rights outline how a vehicle would switch between autonomous operation and a human-controlled one. The car would look at many parameters, including its location and in which direction to drive.
The patent was filed back in May. It mentions two sets of sensors, including ones that identify a so-called "landing strip" when the vehicle comes to a stop. The second set gathers data on vehicle location and its destination.
The landing strip could be a mark on the ground, sign on a wall or lines, arrows that show where the vehicle should be parked or even a QR code. It would also be the reference point that would confirm the exact location of the vehicle to its own electronic brains and therefore transition into autonomous mode. A GPS receiver would first give the car a general location of the car, while the sensors would look for landmarks to narrow it down accurately. GPS receivers are accurate to about 30 feet in some situations, which isn't close enough for autonomous driving.
The landing strips could also be programmed to instruct the vehicle how long to wait before driving off again, to let passengers being dropped off take their luggage out of the trunk, for example. Other sensors could ascertain how far away humans are from the car before it safely moves off.
The patent will allow Google to license its technology as it relates to self-driving cars, but doesn't guarantee Google will put them into production. It has been testing such vehicles in cooperation with universities on the technology. [via BBC]