This is what happens when cartoonist Matthew Inman gets to ride in Google's self-driving car:
Inman, the cartoonist behind The Oatmeal, got to take a test ride in one of Google's autonomous cars last week, and naturally, he's put his impressions online with some illustrations to go along with them. Though the cartoons depict the new prototype car that Google unveiled today, it looks like Inman may have only got to try out one of the existing consumer vehicles that Google has modified to drive on its own. Even so, Inman comes away impressed with the car, writing that Google's vehicle "drives like a person, and after a few minutes you forget that you’re being driven autonomously."
Inman says the cars "are throttled to act like nervous student drivers."
The biggest difference between riding in Google's car and with an experienced driver may be that, for now, Google has set its car up to operate with extreme caution. "Google can adjust the level of aggression in the software, and the self-driving prototypes currently tooling around Mountain View are throttled to act like nervous student drivers," Inman writes. Apparently, a more aggressive driving style is being tested on Google's private tracks and has led to some scared observers.
As for why Google would invite a cartoonist for a test drive, perhaps it's a matter of helping it to win over the public. The idea of having driverless cars on the road is scary for many, and it's going to take a lot of public support to get regulations in place to make that happen widely. The Oatmeal has an audience that's willing to stand behind ideas they like — and Inman's support could just help win Google some fans. You can read Inman's full impressions over at his site.
Left: December 2014 prototype. Right: May 2014 prototype.