Google wins patent for self-driving cars

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's won a patent relating to driverless cars, showing just how close to widespread acceptance the technology is.

The patent - titled Transitioning a Mixed-mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode - covers the way in which the car takes over control from a human driver to find a parking space.

It hinges on a so-called 'landing strip' - a way of telling the vehicle precisely where it is to enable automatic parking.

"The landing strip allows a human driving the vehicle to know acceptable parking places for the vehicle," reads the patent.

"Additionally, the landing strip may indicate to the vehicle that it is parked in a region where it may transition into autonomous mode."

The car could receive rough details about its position either through GPS or through QR codes in the parking areas containing precise location information. It could then use sensors to detect trees or buildings, allowing it to establish its position precisely.

Tha landing strip could also tell the car how long to wait before driving off, or link to services telling the vehicle when it needs to visit the repair shop.

"For example, the autonomous vehicle may be used as a virtual tour guide of Millennium Park in Chicago. In the example embodiment, the vehicle may have an instruction to drive to the Cloud Gate (Silver Bean) sculpture at Millennium Park. When the vehicle arrives, the autonomous instruction may tell it to wait in the location for a predetermined amount of time, for example 5 minutes," the patent reads.
 
"The instruction may then direct the vehicle to drive to the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park and again wait for 5 minutes. Next, the instruction may tell the vehicle to drive to the Ice Rink at Millennium Park and wait for another predetermined amount of time. Finally, the vehicle instruction may tell the vehicle to return to its starting position."

Google's been working on driverless cars for several years, although it only started publicising its work a year or so ago. The vehicles have thousands of miles with only one reported accident so far - and that took place while the autopilot was disabled.