Thrun leads the team that designed the car. "The idea is, at some point in the future, we'll just get in our car, push a button, and say, 'I want to go to Los Angeles.' And the car will make all the decisions by themselves," he explained.
Blackstone took a ride in the robot car, nicknamed Stanley, on a test track at Stanford.
The idea of a car driving itself may sound far-fetched, but last summer Stanley drove all by itself across 132 miles of desert — a demanding course laid out in a Defense Department challenge. Stanley won the race and a $2 million prize.
As Blackstone learned, it takes time to relax and put your trust in the car. Thrun assured him that even though it's completely hands-off, Stanley has been taught proper navigation.
The key to making Stanley drive itself lies in the sensors on the top of the car. Cameras, lasers and GPS equipment feed information to laptop computers in the trunk.
Some time in the 25 years or so, Thrun figures most cars will drive themselves. The next step toward that future will come in October 2007, when Thrun intends to have a robot car drive itself from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
"It won't be a very fast drive going from San Francisco to Los Angeles — it might just drive 55 mph, it won't go 90 like everybody else does in California," Thrun said.
Stanley is programmed to be a safer, more considerate driver than most people. Road rage will never be an issue. After all, one thing Stanley's never learned is how to honk his own horn.