Google’s Self-Driving Car Is For Real-Life Crawling

Google revealed a secret project it was working on to make cars that can drive themselves without any human intervention. These aren’t just experiments in a controlled environment either. The cars have “driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control” on real highways, streets, intersections, and even Lombard street in San Fransisco.

The media has picked up on the theme that Google is doing it to improve society with the goal of reducing automobile fatalities and freeing up time spent commuting. These would be very positive things to come from this research but could take several years to come to fruition. I have a feeling Google is doing this for its own reasons.

The Google search engine has web crawlers that follow every link it can find, slurping down the HTML which Google can analyze to determine where that page ranks in its index. These autonomous cars can be the start to real-life crawlers.

Google Street View started when a bunch of cameras were strapped to a car continuously taking photos as it drove through an area. The photos that appear online are several months old at the earliest. If it could make gathering these photos more efficient, it could update the images faster, making Street View more relevant.

Imagine if Google could send out these automated cars to collect data in the physical world that Google could use in it’s local search product. Some of the more practical applications include updating maps when roads are closed, continuously updating stores in Street View that might have changed ownership, or even determining the popularity of a place based on the number of people seen around it at various times of day.

Google wants to start ranking real-life data in conjunction with online data. This is a clear step in that direction. And it should be no surprise that the self driving car project was led by Sebastian Thrun, co-inventor of the Street View mapping product.

The New Car Conundrum: What Should I Get?

Russell's 1994 Mercury Villager

My 1994 Mercury Villager mini-van has served me well over the years but it has to go according to the U.S. Government. Since it gets a measly 17 combined miles per gallon according to, my van is a certified clunker and eligible for the Cash for Clunkers program. This means I can get $3,500 off a new car purchase that gets at least 4 more miles per gallon or a $4,500 discount for a car that gets at least 10 more miles per gallon. That’s a sweet deal considering the Kelley Blue Book trade-in value is at most $1,550.

The thing is I don’t really need a new car. I get to work using public transportation leaving the van only for small errands. Once a year we will take it on a road trip to Ocean City but that’s about the extent of my driving. I fill it up maybe once a month and according to FuelFrog (my review) I’m getting about 22 miles per gallon.

FuelFrog Miles per Gallon for my 1994 Mercury Villager

Because it has 130,000 miles on it, the tune-ups can be a bit costly about every other year. I have started noticing a high-pitched squeal whenever the accelerator is depressed and one of these days it will die.

With this opportunity I decided to do a bit of research on Yahoo! Autos. I found 21 cars that fit my criteria including the 2010 Honda Insight, 2009 Honda Fit, and 2009 Honda Civic hybrid which all caught my eye. Kristina doesn’t like any of these because she already has a small sedan and strategically it would make sense to get another type of vehicle. I can agree with that, but bigger cars are more expensive.

Three Honda cars to replace my van.

There is also the option of brokering a deal with my dad for his Toyota Rav-4 with 100,000 miles on it in exchange for a car with the discount. He was the one who bought the van 15 years ago and paid it off before handing it over to me but such a deal sounds complicated.

I just feel a little weird about getting a new car and then having it sit at home for most of its early life. So this is where I seek advice from the wisdom of the interwebz. What should I do?

On the plus side an auto loan would help me build my credit score for when we eventually buy a house 🙂