Google just gave Steve Mahan the ride of his life.
Accompanied by Morgan Hill Police Department Sergeant Troy Hoefling, Mahan recently got behind the wheel of Google's modified Toyota Prius, an autonomous vehicle built on technology outed by Google in late 2010 that does all the work for the person in the driver seat.
The trip, however short, was somewhat of a miracle to Mahan. (A video of the outing was posted on Google's official YouTube channel.)
After a few Taco Bell tacos and a quick pick-up of his dry cleaning, the ride came to an end. It wasn't quite like Al Pacino's Ferrari-driving experience in "Scent Of A Woman", but the legally-blind Mahan won't be quick to forget his time behind the wheel.
"This is some of the best driving I've ever done," Mahan, the CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, jokes during the video. He also reveals that he's 95 percent blind.
Self-driving cars, while still years from potentially hitting the marketplace, are getting closer and closer to becoming an everyday reality. In February, Nevada became the first state to spell out regulations for companies testing driverless vehicles like Google's on public roads.
"Then they have to take us out and prove that they can do it," Bruce Breslow, director of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles told the Associated Press. "They're not ready to go to market yet."
However many states, perhaps some with more complex traffic patterns, may not be so quick to let these automated automobiles hit the pavement. Safety concerns were raised after Google's car was involved in an accident in August of last year, though in an odd twist it turned out that someone was behind the wheel, physically controlling the vehicle, at the time of the crash.
The now-ubiquitous Gmail -- Google's email product -- was unlike any previous email service when it was introduced <a href="http://googlepress.blogspot.com/2004/04/google-gets-message-launches-gmail.html" target="_hplink">in 2004</a>. It featured way more storage space (1 GB per user), search capability within your email, and conversion view, which groups together all replies to the original message to keep the conversation in a single thread. It also included a built-in chat service. <em>CORRECTION</em>: An earlier version of this slide stated the Gmail was launched in 2007. It was actually launched in 2004.
Google worked with NASA researchers to create a detailed, digital map of the planet Mars. <a href="http://www.google.com/mars/" target="_hplink">Google Mars</a> works similarly to Google Earth -- except you're navigating around a far-off planet. Users can explore regions, mountains, plains, canyons, craters and other elements.
<a href="http://www.google.com/sky/" target="_hplink">Google Sky,</a> the outer space version of Google Earth, is a way to explore the sky from your computer or mobile device. Click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar and you can see constellations, the moon, the planets, and user guides giving information on each. And, of course, there's a search bar to locate whatever part of the sky you're looking for. If you're unfamiliar, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX9MeF2Au9c&feature=player_embedded#!" target="_hplink">this YouTube video</a> gives a good guide.
<a href="www.google.com/reader" target="_hplink">Google Reader</a> is a web-based news aggregator. It utilizes RSS feeds and included sharing capability until October, 2011, when this feature was <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/10/how-survive-switch-google-reader-google/44069/" target="_hplink">disabled and replaced</a> with a Google+ button.
<a href="https://www.google.com/moderator/" target="_hplink">Google Moderator</a> ranks user-submitted questions that come in during an online discussion. It was first created to help moderate the company's tech talks, and was later used by President Barack Obama's team to sift through Americans' questions for the newly elected president. It works like this: Participants can submit questions or ideas, and other participants vote on them. This crowdsourcing technique helps identify the questions and ideas with the most support or interest from the group.
Google Body allowed users to navigate through 3D anatomical models of the human body. Google Body ceased operation in Oct. 2011 -- when Google Labs shut down -- and will relaunch as Zygote Body. <a href="http://www.zygotebody.com/" target="_hplink">Zygote Body</a> will be a searchable, interactive 3D model of human anatomy. Check out this video for a look at the former Google Body.
<a href="docs.google.com" target="_hplink">Google Docs,</a> a web-based office suite that includes word documents, spreadsheets and other formats, was innovative for a few reasons. One, the documents are accessible from any computer or device. Two, they're collaborative: You can share documents with coworkers or friends and read or edit them simultaneously. The docs also automatically save as you go, protecting the work from browser crashes or other accidents. Google Docs is a combination of two previous company projects: Google Spreadsheets and a web-based processor, Writely. There have been several iterations in the past five years, with the mostly completed version announced in 2010.
<a href="http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/#text" target="_hplink">Google Goggles</a> is on the cutting-edge of visual search. The product enables users to search with images instead of words -- basically you take a picture of something, and Google will recognize it and pull up search results on it. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/07/google-goggles-search-by-_n_382871.html" target="_hplink">See a demonstration here</a>.
A November <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/14/technology/at-google-x-a-top-secret-lab-dreaming-up-the-future.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink"> <em>New York Times</em> piece</a> gave a glimpse into Google's super-secret "Google X" lab, where the company is dreaming up innovative ideas for the future, like elevator that goes to outer space, driverless cars, and all manner of robots. In January 2012, Google announced an experimental lecture forum called "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/google-unveils-solve-for-_n_1258870.html" target="_hplink">Solve For X</a>," with an aim at solving "moonshot thinking." As Google <a href="http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/whats-your-x-amplifying-technology.html" target="_hplink">explained in a blog post</a>, the project will "take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen."