Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The end of driving as we know it...welcome Google's robo car.

Google's self-driving car initiative is moving into a new phase: reality.

Three years after first showing the world what it was up to - rolling out a Toyota Prius with laser scanning hardware awkwardly perched on the roof - Google is moving its big idea out of the lab and into the real world.

Consider recent developments: A spokesman confirmed to CNET that the company was in what were described as productive talks with automakers involving Google's self-driving technology.

Separately, Google is reported to be crafting a partnership with auto supplier Continental. And there's even the possibility of Google-powered robo-taxis sometime in the future.

Where is this all leading? The answer, naturally, is complicated. After all, we're talking about an effort to force the biggest change in the auto industry since the first Model A drove out of Henry Ford's factory a century ago. And the automakers aren't about to let Google plow through their turf unless it helps their businesses. They have their own plans with self-driving cars, and some execs scoff at Google co-founder Sergey Brin's wide-eyed remarks about making self-driving cars commercially available by 2017.

"We do not think someone will have a fully autonomous production vehicle that soon," said Daniel Flores from General Motors' advanced technology group. "Vehicles that can drive themselves are years - maybe decades - away. The technology will develop in steps to allow the vehicle to do more and act incrementally as sensors get more robust and costs come down."

That might be, but such talk isn't about to diminish Google's ambitions. Google is leading the charge on this one. It's prodding the auto industry - not to mention regulators and the insurance business - to push the whole effort at a Silicon Valley pace.

Already Nevada, Florida, and California have legalized driverless car testing on public roads, with a lobbying nudge from Google. And although plenty of other efforts are under way - from GM to Nissan and Audi - Google has the highest profile, something that surely rankles the old guard.

"Google's embarrassed the car industry by getting out ahead on this and getting all the attention," said Roger Lanctot, an automotive analyst with Strategy Analytics.

Let's not lose sight of something else: Anyone who's watched Google's swift rise in its 15 year history knows there's also a big potential side benefit. Google talks about making the roads safer, but the company's core business has plenty to gain from freeing up drivers from that task of, well, driving. How much? Americans on average spend 18.5 hours a week in a car, which adds up to a lot of time they could be checking Gmail, editing Google Docs, watching YouTube videos, and clicking ads.
"They're trying to free people's time so they can dedicate themselves to the Internet and Googling around," said Alberto Broggi, an autonomous vehicle researcher and professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma in Italy. "They're motivated by great innovation, but the bottom line...is business."

Source: CNET

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