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Google self-driving car chauffeurs legally blind man

Google demonstrates how its high-tech, tricked-out Prius can operate autonomously by bringing a blind man to the shopping center.

A legally blind driver gets a turn behind the wheel of Google's autonomous vehicle.
Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, gets a turn behind the wheel of Google's autonomous vehicle.
Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET

Google yesterday released a poignant video demonstrating the potential of its self-driving car.

In the short video, a man walks out of his house and gets behind the wheel of one of Google's robotic cars, a Toyota Prius equipped with an array of high-tech gadgetry including radar, lasers, and cameras.

The car takes the man, Steve Mahan, for a ride including visits to a Taco Bell and the dry cleaners without him needing to touch the steering wheel or pedals. Midway through, Mahan says he is legally blind, having lost about 95 percent of his vision.

The three-minute clip demonstrates how the car can maneuver from his home, through neighborhoods, and into a commercial center autonomously. At the end of the video, Google says Mahan is the first customer of Google's self-driving car, calling him "self-driving car user #0000000001."

"Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things," he says during the video.

The video is only one of a few communications Google has made about its self-driving car project, first announced in 2010. The company, which hired a team of robotics experts to develop the system, now says it has completed more than 200,000 miles of computer-led driving.

Google said it organized the drive with Mahan as a technical experiment as well as a "promising look at what autonomous technology may one day deliver if rigorous technology and safety standards can be met." The video was filmed in partnership with the Morgan Hill Police Department and the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center in San Jose, Calif.