GOOGLE IS TESTING its self-driving cars on the virtual streets of California in what has been called a Matrix-like environment.
We've seen The Matrix. It starts relatively straightforwardly, then veers around for a while before it finally comes to a rather unsatisfactory conclusion. This is probably not the sort of journey that Google's driverless vehicles are asked to take.
The Matrix-like characterisation comes from the Guardian newspaper and carries on across the web. It is Matrix-like because it is a virtual world. It is not Matrix-like because people suspend time, walk through walls, jump off things and shop in places where tight lycra and large guns are on special offer. It is also likely rather low on kung fu.
It is a driving simulation that the firm is using to some good effect already. According to the firm it is a new thing, but one that is delivering and letting Google know whether cars will crash without actually having to crash any of them.
"The driving simulator is a relatively new tool - we didn't have anything like it a few years ago. It's now a critical part of how we test and refine our software," said Google spokeswoman Katelin Jabbari to the newspaper.
"We've developed models of what a car approaching a four-way stop at high speed is likely to do, and what the various probabilities are that it will stop normally, screech to a stop or run the stop sign."
While this is all probably a lot of fun, Google has other reasons to support its driving simulator, and it hopes that such tests will become the norm. The internet giant is lobbying California for the right to perform its vehicle certification tests using this method.
The Guardian reports that Google has written to California with its arguments, and it reproduced a section of one of those letters.
"Computer simulations are actually more valuable, as they allow manufacturers to test their software under far more conditions and stresses than could possibly be achieved on a test track," wrote Google safety director Ron Medford in support of the firm's self-driving car programme.
"Google wants to ensure that [the regulation] is interpreted to allow manufacturers to satisfy this requirement through computer-generated simulations."
So far virtual cars have put in some four million virtual miles of virtual driving in Google's virtual California. µ