Drawing on the immense computing power of Google's server farms, the search giant has been quietly testing self driving cars with the aim of aiding mankind according to the Official Google Blog.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. We’re also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow."
In order to accomplish it's goal Google has enlisted help from several leading participants in the field including "...some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside."
Here is a small video clip from the NYTimes article:
Note that there is an occupant in the driver's seat who is a specially trained driver to man the controls in the event of a system failure, and a software engineer in the passenger seat who monitors the software. Google says that their major concern in the experiment was safety and that they had worked with local law enforcement on all test drives. The test drives where apparently scouted first by manned vehicles that mapped the route and noted road conditions.