Worldwide, roughly 1.3 million people are killed in car accidents each year [source: Khazan]. And then there's the evil of traffic itself; the American commuter is trapped in his or her car for an average of 38 hours each year [source: Werbach]. That's a full week of lost productivity!
Enter the Google self-driving car, an autonomous vehicle that promises to steer clear of accidents and keep traffic flowing smoothly via algorithm. Powered by Google Chauffeur software, the car uses GPS and a rooftop scanner to stay on course and respond to nearby vehicles. As of 2013, the car was still in its beta testing phase, but dozens of robotic cars were already on the road in California and Nevada.
One of the biggest concerns about driverless cars isn't a software glitch, but the awkward transition from robot mode to human mode. The soothing voice of Google Chauffeur alerts its human driver of upcoming situations that require hands-on control, like a tricky merge or a tollbooth [source: Fisher]. But Google engineers are still working out how much warning time is needed before the hand-off, or what to do if the driver has done something understandably human like doze off [source: Bosker]. No one wants to wake up behind the wheel of an SUV barreling down on a tollbooth at 65 mph (105 kph). And even fewer people want to be in that tollbooth.