Google autonomous Toyota Prius test vehicle

Google autonomous Toyota Prius test vehicle

Google is betting big on its autonomous car technology, but the company has a long road ahead of it before those cars reach the market. Google's next major goal? Seeing its self-driving cars travel 1,000,000 miles without driver intervention.

Last time we heard from Google, the company was lobbying Nevada to allow autonomous cars on the state's roadways. (FYI, those efforts proved successful.) Though there was plenty of speculation about what Google might be planning, many thought that unmanned taxis for the Las Vegas strip were on the drawing board.

At the time, Google said that its autonomous cars had traveled over 140,000 miles without incident, but added that the vehicles had gone only 1,000 miles without the need for driver intervention. In other words, there may not have been any accidents during the 140,000 miles of tests, but Google's drivers had needed to step in now and then to make small adjustments. (More recently, there were some well-publicized reports of a fender-bender involving an autonomous car, however, a human driver was in control of the vehicle at the time.)

On Thursday at the Web 2.0 summit, Google's co-founder Sergey Brin upped the ante considerably, saying that Google had set a goal of traveling 1,000,000 miles in an autonomous car without the need for driver intervention at all. Brin didn't elaborate on a timetable for conducting such tests or where they might take place, but since most of the company's tests have been centered in California and Nevada, those are the most likely sites. 

Our take

So far, Google's work on this front has very impressive -- the product of many, many engineers and many, many dollars. If any company on Planet Earth can marshal those resources, it's probably Google, and there's no real sign of the company's power diminishing anytime soon.

While autonomous cars are likely years away from showrooms, it's clear that they -- like the children -- are our future. After all, most luxury vehicles now come with a full battery of collision avoidance and safety systems, which are really just low-grade iterations of the technology that Google has developed. It seems logical that the apotheosis of those tech developments would be vehicles that allow us to ignore our drivers' ed instructors and take our eyes off the road for good.