By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Google Inc, the world's largest Internet search engine, has been tinkering with engines of another sort and come up with some futuristic results -- a car that drives itself.
Google, in a posting on its official blog, said it has developed the technology and been busy testing a fully automated car that would take the controls out of the hands of distracted drivers, leaving them free to text, eat or apply makeup to their heart's content.
"Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people's time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use," Google said on its blog.
The automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see" other traffic, as well as detailed maps to navigate the road ahead.
The futuristic autos have already been tested on the heavily trafficked California roadways -- including highways, bridges and busy city streets. They have even navigated San Franciso's famed Lombard Street, a tourist favorite known as the nation's most dramatically winding address.
All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles, Google said.
All of the test runs have had a driver behind the wheel just in case. The driver can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control, Google said, adding that test drives have also included a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software.
Google said it believes its self-driving cars might one day cut by half the more than 1 million traffic fatalities suffered each year.
For those ready to shell out hard-earned cash for one of the first self driving autos, Google said the project "is very much in the experimental stage" providing only "a glimpse" of what transportation might look like in the future.
It remains to be seen whether Google investors, who have been concerned by the company's spending, will applaud its automotive aspirations. The company missed Wall Street's earnings estimates in the second quarter and is due to report third quarter results later this week.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Diane Craft)