TED2011

Sebastian Thrun: Google's driverless car

Filmed:

Sebastian Thrun helped build Google's amazing driverless car, powered by a very personal quest to save lives and reduce traffic accidents. Jawdropping video shows the DARPA Challenge-winning car motoring through busy city traffic with no one behind the wheel, and dramatic test drive footage from TED2011 demonstrates how fast the thing can really go.

- Engineer
Sebastian Thrun is the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and is working, through robotics, to change the way we understand the world. Full bio

As a boy,
00:15
I loved cars.
00:17
When I turned 18,
00:19
I lost my best friend to a car accident.
00:21
Like this.
00:25
And then I decided I'd dedicate my life
00:27
to saving one million people
00:30
every year.
00:32
Now I haven't succeeded, so this is just a progress report,
00:34
but I'm here to tell you a little bit about self-driving cars.
00:37
I saw the concept first
00:40
in the DARPA Grand Challenges
00:42
where the U.S. government issued a prize
00:44
to build a self-driving car that could navigate a desert.
00:46
And even though a hundred teams were there,
00:49
these cars went nowhere.
00:52
So we decided at Stanford to build a different self-driving car.
00:55
We built the hardware and the software.
00:58
We made it learn from us,
01:01
and we set it free in the desert.
01:03
And the unimaginable happened:
01:06
it became the first car
01:08
to ever return from a DARPA Grand Challenge,
01:10
winning Stanford 2 million dollars.
01:12
Yet I still hadn't saved a single life.
01:17
Since, our work has focused
01:20
on building driving cars
01:23
that can drive anywhere by themselves --
01:25
any street in California.
01:28
We've driven 140,000 miles.
01:30
Our cars have sensors
01:33
by which they magically can see
01:36
everything around them
01:39
and make decisions
01:41
about every aspect of driving.
01:43
It's the perfect driving mechanism.
01:46
We've driven in cities,
01:49
like in San Francisco here.
01:51
We've driven from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Highway 1.
01:53
We've encountered joggers,
01:57
busy highways, toll booths,
01:59
and this is without a person in the loop;
02:02
the car just drives itself.
02:04
In fact, while we drove 140,000 miles,
02:06
people didn't even notice.
02:09
Mountain roads,
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day and night,
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and even crooked Lombard Street
02:17
in San Francisco.
02:20
(Laughter)
02:22
Sometimes our cars get so crazy,
02:25
they even do little stunts.
02:28
(Video) Man: Oh, my God.
02:32
What?
02:36
Second Man: It's driving itself.
02:38
Sebastian Thrun: Now I can't get my friend Harold back to life,
02:42
but I can do something for all the people who died.
02:45
Do you know that driving accidents
02:47
are the number one cause of death for young people?
02:50
And do you realize that almost all of those
02:53
are due to human error
02:56
and not machine error,
02:59
and can therefore be prevented by machines?
03:01
Do you realize
03:05
that we could change the capacity of highways
03:07
by a factor of two or three
03:10
if we didn't rely on human precision
03:13
on staying in the lane --
03:15
improve body position
03:17
and therefore drive a little bit closer together
03:19
on a little bit narrower lanes,
03:21
and do away with all traffic jams on highways?
03:23
Do you realize that you, TED users,
03:28
spend an average
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of 52 minutes per day
03:33
in traffic,
03:35
wasting your time
03:37
on your daily commute?
03:39
You could regain this time.
03:42
This is four billion hours
03:44
wasted in this country alone.
03:46
And it's 2.4 billion gallons of gasoline wasted.
03:49
Now I think there's a vision here, a new technology,
03:53
and I'm really looking forward to a time
03:56
when generations after us look back at us
03:58
and say how ridiculous it was that humans were driving cars.
04:00
Thank you.
04:03
(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Sebastian Thrun - Engineer
Sebastian Thrun is the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and is working, through robotics, to change the way we understand the world.

Why you should listen

Sebastian Thrun is a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where he also serves as the Director of the Stanford AI Lab. His research focuses on robotics and artificial intelligence. He led the development of the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, and which is exhibited in the Smithsonian. 

Read the TED Blog's first-person story of a spin in the Google driverless car >>

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