In Google's patent application, an example was given where the technology could be put to use in commercial situations. Google says an autonomous vehicle may be used as a virtual tour guide, for example, whereby the autonomous instruction may tell it to wait at certain points for a predetermined amount of time before returning to its starting position.
The Google car is able to do this thanks to two different stages of sensors that constantly analyse the surroundings. The Google car initially picks up the 'landing strip' (the path ahead) providing guidance on where the car sits on the road and where to stop.
The next set of sensors provides finer details of moving and stationary obstacles. The car makes calculations and is able to accelerate, brake and steer itself along the road just as if a human was driving.
Google has been testing the technology in various Toyota Prius test vehicles as well as Audi TT prototypes, which have collectively covered over 225,000km of autonomous driving.
With the patent now awarded to Google, we could expect to see the technology make an appearance in the commercial world in the near future. It still may be some time yet until it's available through your local car dealer, however.
Would you like to see this technology made readily available, or do you think cars should be always driven by a human?