Google can't take you for a ride, yet

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IOL mot pic aug14 Google Riderless Bike . This is GhostRider, the 2004 Darpa Grand Challenge entry from Anthony Levandowski and Team Blue.

Mountain View, California - suddenly the cybergarage is crackling with rumours that Google is planning to create autonomous motorcycles and that, in the same way as Google’s autonomous cars do not have a steering wheel, Google bikes will have not handlebars - that the day will come when we will all be pillion passengers while the bike takes us for a ride.

Relax, fellow bikers, it hasn't come to that - yet.

What has happened is that a couple of tabloid publications have suddenly woken up to the fact that, way back in January, Ron Medford, Google's director of safety for its self-driving car programme, wrote to the California department of motor vehicles, asking that the law allowing Google to test autonomous vehicles on the public roads be amended - because it specifically excluded motorcycles and trucks.

THE LETTER

Medford wrote: “Although Google is not currently testing any of these vehicles excluded under this section, we believe that the section should be deleted in its entirety, as any such exclusion unnecessarily restricts future innovation.

“It is certainly possible that future testing could include motorcycles or larger commercial vehicles. If some innovator can demonstrate that testing autonomous technology on such vehicles is safe, then they should be allowed to test.

“The DMV should not pre-emptively foreclose potential avenues of an evolving technology, but should instead review every testing permit application on its own merits.”

A few key-strokes later the tabloideers discovered that one of Google's top engineers is in fact University of California, Berkley supergeek Anthony Levandowski, who pitched up at the 2004 Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge with a (marginally) workable autonomous motorcycle, which you can see in the video below.

They promptly put two and two together and got five = shock horror - robot bikes!

Industry insiders believe, however, that Google has an eye to the EU 'Sartre' project, spearheaded by Volvo, which is based on forming closely-spaced convoys of cars or, more effectively, heavyweight cargo carriers, all under the control of the driver of the first vehicle (who doesn't necessarily have to be human) and has been realising impressive gains in fuel-efficiency over individual vehicles during real-world testing.

Besides which, any biker will tell you that the pillion is an integral part of the riding process, with almost as much input as the rider, so the tabloid scenario is likely to remain a pipedream until we find a way to plug our brains directly into a computer.

What is probably feasible, however, given the state of the art with regard to accelerometers and yaw sensors, is a motorcycle capable of riding itself with nobody on board - which would make it possible to get off your bike at your front door and tell it to go and park itself, and later ask it - via smartphone, of course - to come and fetch you.

Renault has, after all, already done that with cars.



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