Google's Self-Driving Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
We've followed Google's progress closely, but now the BBC has revealed that Google has been awarded a U.S. patent for the technology.
Specifically, the patent refers to the technology that handles the transition from human control to autonomous control. It explains details of how the car knows when to take control, where it is located and which direction to travel in.
Google's car wouldn't necessarily be able to take over your driving just anywhere - the patent, which can be viewed in full here, details how a "landing strip" is used, which lets the human driver find a safe spot to park from which the machine can then take over. This strip also gives the car the necessary location data.
A combination of the landing strip data - which could be as simple as a small mark on the road or on a wall nearby - and features surrounding the car would allow it to find exactly where it is, via GPS data.
The patent even goes so far as to suggest a pre-programmed waiting period could be used, to allow a human passenger to exit the car, collect their belongings and leave before the car resumes on its journey. Alternatively, autonomous vehicles could be filled with passengers and taken on city tours, stopping for set amounts of time to allow for tour commentary or photo taking.
It's exciting stuff, and hints that driverless cars really are not far from being viable - Google's own car has travelled more than 1,000 miles with no driver input, and as if to confirm its success record the only time it's been involved in an incident was when under human control. They've even sent the car around an autocross course at high speed.
Be sure to keep checking back for the latest updates on autonomous vehicles.