A Lexus drives down the eight-lane highway outside Palo Alto, California, in heavy rush-hour traffic. Except for the rotating cylinder perched on its roof like an oversized tin can and the word “Google” on its doors, it looks like any other car. In reality, though, it’s a search engine on wheels.
The Lexus steers itself down the highway all by itself. The man in the driver’s seat — Dmitri Dolgov, a software engineer for Google — never actually touches the wheel.
Dolgov explains what the car can do, which turns out to be quite a lot. It can steer, accelerate and brake automatically; it surveys its surroundings with cameras and uses radar to measure the distance to the car in front of it; and its laser scanner — the cylinder affixed to the roof — monitors objects in all directions.
“See?” Dolgov asks, pointing as a car swerves in front of the Google vehicle from the right. There’s no need for Dolgov to intervene. The robotic car has identified what is happening and gently brakes until there is once again a proper distance between the cars.