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Google: the listening car

Google's driverless car has been racking up the miles for some time now, without any incident at all. The motoring world is watching with interest as such cars could transform the way we interact with cars forever. Keen eyes keep a watch on patent applications concerned with the car as these can give a clearer picture of where Google are with the technology right now and where they intend to take it.

Google's driverless car has been racking up the miles for some time now, without any incident at all. The motoring world is watching with interest as such cars could transform the way we interact with cars forever. Keen eyes keep a watch on patent applications concerned with the car as these can give a clearer picture of where Google are with the technology right now and where they intend to take it. Some of the latest patents filed by Google show an interesting development. It appears that they want the car to listen to its environment, in addition to seeing it with cameras.

This means that the car will be able to sense when it is approaching a beeping pedestrian crossing. The computer will then bring the car to a halt. The technology is designed to augment the car's visual technology, making it even safer still. It means that the car can listen for any potential hazards that could be out of sight of the vehicle's camera range. It would allow the computer to 'see' around corners and make judgements about potential obstacles and hazards. The car can then prepare to take any appropriate action before the hazard is even in sight. Google says that the listening device can work out where any pedestrian crossing is and even which way the people on it are crossing.

Further patents have been looking at the way we control the car and suggesting alternatives. These include making hand movements and gestures, rather than touching switchgear, to control secondary systems, such as infotainment and comfort components. While the ability for cars to hear or our ability to control them with gestures is innovative, it only scratches the surface of what can be achieved with driverless cars.

The safety features and instant control of driverless cars could mean that they could be driven much faster and still be safer than today's models. The instant reaction of the computer also means that they could be driven much closer together. This could dramatically cut journey times and increase the capacity of our roads. In fact, some observers reckon that road capacity could be increased five-fold or more. This would virtually mean an end to rush hour traffic jams and congestion. Such cars could drop us of at work and then return home or, more intriguingly, they could earn their keep as a taxi. There is no reason why we couldn't send our cars out to work while we are not using them, making them far cheaper to own or perhaps removing the need for ownership altogether.

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