Google’s alphabet has underlined its intentions to become a major player in the world of self-driving cars, with its purchase of artificial intelligence (AI) firm, Latent Logic. Back in December 2019.

Waymo is the name of the company which Google set up to develop self-driving cars, and it is now classed as a standalone subsidiary. The testing of self-driving taxis was conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, USA in 2017, before the taxis were adjudged safe for public use in the city in 2018. Users can hail a cab using a simple app before they are picked up and taken to their destination in the metropolitan area.

The move to buy Latent Logic gives Waymo a company which is an imitation learning specialist, which can teach machines how to copy the actions of humans. This expertise can be put to use teaching AI drivers to handle the more complex problems which they might encounter on the roads.

Extra muscle power towards autonomous transport development

Shimon Whiteson, one of the two academics who founded Latent Logic, suggested in a statement that the extra ‘muscle power’ added by Waymo could be the key to significant development in the field of autonomous transport.

Mr Whiteson explained: “By joining Waymo, we are taking a big leap towards realising our ambition of safe, self-driving vehicles. In just two years, we have made significant progress in using imitation learning to simulate real human behaviours on the road. I’m excited by what we can now achieve in combining this expertise with the talent, resources and progress Waymo have already made in self-driving technology.”

It should be noted that the acquisition of Latent Logic is not expected to lead to self-driving cars in the UK any time soon. There are, however, plans to make a move into Europe. There is a project underway with car manufacturer Renault to develop self-driving taxis in Paris in time for the 2024 Olympic Games.

Waymo initially tested its self-driving taxis in Phoenix using safety drivers who were able to rectify any errors such as taking the wrong route. But its cars are now completely driver-less, and capable of rectifying their own mistakes should they veer off route.

Self-driving cars are all well and good, but what are their advantages?

More independence

Self-driving cars would be able to give people with disabilities, for example, more independence. This would mean less dependency on public transport which can sometimes have unpredictable schedules.

Allow drivers to commute while being fatigued

If you become tired during a journey, you wouldn’t need to pull over to take a nap as future self-driving cars are doing just that, driving for you. When tired you have a higher chance of causing an accident, whereas self-driving cars can’t ignore road signs or run a red light.

Reduce automobile theft

A self-driving car can be programmed to only unlock for its owner, with the use of biometric technologies. This can help stop people trying to use it, sensors, tracking and alarms could alert law enforcement nearby if any parts of the car are forcibly removed.

The human factor may never be eliminated

Even with self-driving cars, you will probably need to know how to use the vehicle if there was an emergency. Drivers would presumably need to go on a training course to understand how the technology works and how to disengage the self-driver mode. You would also be obligated to maintain the car properly to guarantee the safety of its use.

Challenging weather conditions

When the roads are in poor conditions due to the weather, humans are needed to navigate through heavy rainfall, sleet and snow as sensors may not work properly due to lack of vision. This means that there is still a skill which needs to be taught when driving if we fully convert to this technology in the next few years.

Photo: Google Self-Driving Car by smoothgroover22 licensed under Creative Commons 2.0