According to the filing, features would include the ability to autonomously pick up kids from school and drive them home, communicate with other vehicles to avoid obstacles such as a deer in the road, let people doze on special “sleeping surfaces” inside the car while the computer drives, and change shape automatically depending how the vehicle is being used, among many other features.
The filing also notes that the technology could be applied to a variety of different vehicles, not just cars and trucks but “busses, boats, airplanes, helicopters, lawnmowers, recreational vehicles, amusement park vehicles, trams, golf carts, trains, and trolleys.”
Google first detailed the autonomous car project in 2010, using technology including video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to allow the cars to drive themselves. Prototypes have alternatively thrilled, impressed and scared earlier testers, as shown in the video above. The project is an outgrowth of U.S. DARPA Challenge for autonomous vehicles.
The patent filing was submitted in October and made public by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office today.
Combined with Google’s Project Glass, an augmented reality glasses initiative made public this week, the patent document fills in key details about Google’s vision for the future role of computers and online services in our lives.
Another detail from the patent filing: The cars could come with personalized settings to reflect the user’s driving style.
The filing explains, “For example, a more aggressive driver may want to change lanes more often to pass cars, drive in the left lane on a highway, maneuver the vehicle closer to the surrounding vehicles, and drive faster than less aggressive drivers. A less aggressive driver may prefer for the vehicle to take more conservative actions, such as somewhat at or below the speed limit, avoiding congested highways, or avoiding populated areas in order to increase the level of safety.”
Other possibilities include “autonomous law enforcement vehicles such as patrol vehicles, fire trucks, or ambulances” that could be given limited control of nearby vehicles — ensuring, for example, that people pull over when they pass.
“During dangerous high-speed chases, the vehicle may allow autonomous law enforcement vehicles to maintain high speeds in confined situations, such as through areas of high traffic, while at the same time reducing the likelihood of a collision with environmental objects,” the patent filing says.
The company recently showed how the car was able to drive a man who is 95 percent blind.