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Tired Of Driving Your Own Car? Startup Cruise Wants To Make It Drive Itself

I've gotta say, Twitch TV co-founder Kyle Vogt's got an interesting resume. Before founding the world's most popular video game streaming site, he was carrying out undergraduate research in robotics. Now that Google's acquired his old company, he's returning to those roots with Cruise -a startup he's cobbled together with roboticists and engineers from MIT.

Together, they're working on technology with which I'm sure most of us are intimately familiar by now: self-driving, autonomous cars. On the surface, that doesn't sound particularly exciting. After all, that's ground we've already seen trodden.

The difference is that they're not designing a car that's self-driving right off the factory floor. They've created a peripheral that can be mounted on an existing car. In other words, they've got the technology to turn pretty much any car into a robot.

Well...sort of. The technology - called RP-1 - isn't quite perfect yet, according to Vogt. It's significantly more advanced than cruise control, but it doesn't give a vehicle full autonomy quite yet, either. It's somewhere in between the two. Either way, it's a pretty awesome concept...the only question is why Voigt didn't jump into it sooner. Why did he first decide to jump into social media and streaming?

According to Voigt, the technology didn't exist at the time, nor was the world necessarily ready for Cruise back then.

"Moore's law makes this possible," he explained."The computation systems for self-driving cars were large and bulky when I worked on AV in 2004. We would have 10 servers and a rack in the back of a pick-up truck. But that kind of power is now available in your cell phone. Google's also made a lot of regulatory and cultural headway in the space" 

"Because of Google," he told TechCrunch, "people are ready. Ten years ago, people would've said that this is science fiction. But now, they're not asking if, but when. There's a perception that self-driving cars are coming and people are expecting them." 

There are three primary components to the RP-1: sensor units are attached to the top of the car near the windshield, while actuators connected to those sensors control steering and driving. All of this tech is in turned controlled and co-ordinated by a small computer that fits in the car's trunk. Now, as I've said, this system won't actually drive your car for you. Instead, it'll serve as a sort of corrective technology (at least for the time being).

Say, for example, you're about to merge into a lane on a highway. Hitting a "Cruise" button on your dashboard will cause the system to take control of your car's steering, braking, and acceleration to help you carry out the merge smoothly and keep you safely in lane.  In essence, explained Vogt, it exists to act as a buffer against human error on the road.

"There are 30,000 deaths a year from car accidents," he said. "Ninety percent of those are caused by humans," he said. "When you put a computer in a car, each one of our systems has this corpus of knowledge from thousands of hours of driving. It never gets distracted and never falls asleep. If we have technology that can compensate for the shortcomings of people, we have a responsibility to do something about it." 

Unfortunately, Cruise's system isn't going to be cheap. Currently, the device retails at around $10,000, and the company is taking pre-orders for a launch at some point next year.  It also only works with Audi A4s and S4s; the team is still working on making it compatible with other models of cars. Check out a commercial trailer for it below: