Can any one remember when Google was just a search engine? You know, before they ended up having more money than some small countries, and started exploring just about any technology that struck its fancy? Well, you can now add self-driving cars to the growing lists of technologies the company is involved with.

Google announced on Saturday that it has been road testing a fleet of autonomous cars that includes six Priuses and an Audi TT that have been cruising all around California with a driver behind the wheel only as an emergency backup to the artificial intelligence that guides the vehicle.  Thus far the cars have built up a total of 140,000 miles under their collective belts, and Google isn’t showing any signs of slowing down its testing.

In conjunction with the official announcement, The New York Times ran a story that explained all of the equipment on the cars.

Google car

While the cars are from being ready to go into some sort of production – estimates are a minimum of eight years – Google seems very enthused by the idea, and they don’t plan on stopping with just automated driving with a human operator there as backup.  The company is envisioning a day where cars could be summoned from a distance so families could easily share a car, removing more vehicles from the road.  Also, automated cars are capable of conserving gas because there would be less variances in speed which leads to a fuel savings.

One of the biggest hurdles, outside of making the technology work flawlessly, is that current laws require a human operator in a car at all times.  Google did have some questions about the legality of the cars as they stand, but since someone is sitting behind the steering wheel at all times, it would seem the cars are legal as they stand.  Bernard Lu, senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, told the Times, “The technology is ahead of the law in many areas.”

This is something that futurists have predicted for years, but just like flying cars, it just never seemed to be coming true.  Well, thanks to Google, it looks like it might very well happen within our lifetimes now.

What say you?  Would you be interested in a self-driving car?