Ex Google engineer completes 3,000 mile coast-to-coast journey in driverless car

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James Titcomb
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A former Google engineer has completed what he claims is the first US coast-to-coast drive completed entirely by self-driving technology.

Anthony Levandowski completed the 3,099 mile journey between San Francisco and New York in October, only taking charge of his vehicle to refuel and stop overnight, according to a video shared by his new company.

A coast-to-coast drive without the need for any human intervention has long been an ambition for driverless car developers, but available driver-assistance technology is limited largely to motorways. Tests of fully driverless cars are highly regulated and limited to small areas.

Mr Levandowski has been a controversial figure in the tech industry and one of the most prominent developers of driverless car systems.

He helped start Google’s self-driving car project and left to found his own start-up before joining Uber. Mr Levandowski was then fired after he was at the centre of a lawsuit between the two companies over allegations that he had taken trade secrets when he left Google.

Anthony Levandowski was fired from Uber last year - Credit: AP
Anthony Levandowski was fired from Uber last year Credit: AP

Announcing a new project, Pronto AI, Mr Levandowski said that tech companies had been too slow in developing driverless cars.

“I’ve admittedly grown frustrated - and at times impatient - with the industry’s inability to deliver on its promises,” he said.

He said companies had become too focused on developing fully-driverless cars, a technology believed to be at least a decade away, instead of focusing on semi-autonomous systems, which are easier to develop but still require human supervision.

“The self-driving industry has gotten two key things wrong: it’s been focused on achieving the dream of fully-autonomous driving straight from manual vehicle operation, and it has chased this false dream with crutch technologies,” he said.

A timelapse video of the coast-to-coast drive showed a five-day journey across 13 states in a Toyota Prius, during which Mr Levandowski does not appear to take control of the wheel except for fuel and rest.

The car largely travels on major roads, with no city or town centres to navigate. Mr Levandowski claimed his company’s technology was a highly-capable “level 2” system, referring to the five levels of self-driving. Level 2 systems mean that a car can accelerate, brake and steer, but needs human supervision.

Mr Levandowski said his company was developing a system for truck drivers, which would help with driving on long journeys.

Elon Musk had previously claimed that a coast-to-coast road trip using Tesla’s Autopilot technology would be possible with its self-driving software by the end of 2017, but is yet to demonstrate this.