On Tuesday, May 27, Google unveiled its design for self-driving cars. Big surprises for Google’s guinea-pig passengers include the absence of both steering wheel and pedals and a two-seat design that resembles a ride in a theme park.
The new Google car looks nothing like the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, or Toyota Lexus, which Google previously used for its self-driving trials. A laser radar system, with the range finder mounted on the top, however, remains a part of Google’s new design.
In this bold iteration, Google, a non-automotive company, is clearly committed to changing the conversation around self-driving cars.
Rather than promoting the self-driving car as an extension to cars we own today, Google is pitching the new prototype as a completely new category of transportation, like a “robo taxi” that picks up the young, the old, and the disabled to carry them from point A to point B.
Google’s promo video makes that clear. As Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, wrote in the comment section of the video clip, this is “a next step for the self-driving car team... this video says it all.”
Beyond all the technology and regulatory issues anticipated, I firmly believe that the biggest hurdle autonomous cars must clear is us: namely, our deeply rooted -- and not entirely unreasonable -- distrust of machines.
No, I’m not being a Luddite here.
One of the prevailing, recurrent themes of science fiction, from Karel Capek to the Terminator films, depicts a benevolent machine whose intelligence has progressed to the point beyond that of humans. But somehow, something goes wrong, and we, the humans, don’t have a clue about how to stop the machine.
I think Google, a master of its own messaging, has seen the movie. In fact, the company makes mighty efforts in the promotional video to ease that yet-to-surface, basic human trepidation about machines.
Sure, we hear people casually talking about how “cool” Google’s self-driving car is. It is cool. But in reality, I think many of us would still need a lot more convincing before plunking down, sometime around 2020, serious money for an autonomous car.
However, if the self-driving car neither looks nor acts like a car as we know it today, and if it’s designed to function as a personal bus or cab instead of a replacement for our own driving machine, I think that Google’s new self-driving car might be onto something.
It’s one thing that conventional automakers promote the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) as a suite of new safety bells and whistles. But it’s a whole different ballgame talking the existing customer base into buying autonomous cars. Decoupling the concept of the car from the very act of driving is a radical departure for any car OEM.
Clearly, the next chapter of the self-driving car isn’t about designing the super-cool car of the next decade, which most carmakers are very good at.
Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin believes the new Google car prototypes have "the ability to change the world and the community around you." Well, even if you don’t totally buy into the altruistic pitch that Google cars will help the underserved, Google has taken an irrevocable first step in changing the debate on the autonomous car, from being a personal luxury to a tool that serves the social good.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times
elizabethsimon wrote: It would be especially nice for some place like Los Angeles where the public transit is practically non-existant...
Los Angeles has come a long way since Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988. Two heavy rail, four light rail, and two bus rapid transit according to Wikipedia. It doesn't yet go everywhere like the Red Cars, but it's a start (and faster!)
I totally agree. To me, what is the significant new twist on the Google car is the restriction in its applicability. The altruistic message has nothing to do with anything, just a sales gimmick. But when it's presented as a transportation pod that will autonomously travel on a well known set of streets in the community only, suddenly the whole project sounds feasible because bounded.
For instance, even if on-board sensors don't prove adequate, even in such restricted and well-known routes, Google might hope to be able to afford putting in the infrastructure comms necessary. So the whole project sounds plausible now.
I could see this also appealing to the people who are using Zip cars and other similar vechicle sharing programs instead of owning their own car. Would be really convienet if the car could just drive up to your residence when you requested it and then trundled off to find it's own parking place when you're done.
I completely agree. And also on the opposite end of the age spectrum. Ever wait up on a Friday or Saturday night for your teenager to come home with the family car? That time has just past fortunately for me, but in retrospect, I would have gladly handed over the money for the peace of mind and avoiding endless debates about being "soooo unfair!".
Because I see traditional automotive companies are after the self-driving car from a whole different perspective. They position the self-driving car as the ultimate super duper ADAS machine.
In contrast, Google, which has got nothing to lose (because it ain't a car company), frames the self-driving car issue NOT as an ultimate driving machine but a whole new category of transportation vehicle.
They are calling it the same -- "self-driving car" -- but they are meaning two very different things.
I'd love to be able to arrive at the airport and rent something like this to get around. It would be especially nice for some place like Los Angeles where the public transit is practically non-existant and a taxi ride to the next town is likely to cost more than renting a car. It'll be a while before they have the bugs worked out and the regulations in place for this though.
I have seen this LASER device on top of the vehicle, and think that it falls far short of what it is wanting or supposed to do.
Instead of the "Bubble-Gum" machine on top, they should have pulse coded LASERs surounding the car horizontally, and then some on top to check for low clearances. Then use the available Radar sensors (Front & Back) to judge distance between other vehicles, and GPS for positionning the vehicle.
Why did they settle for such a silly device as they did, when better technology is already in use on standard cars today?
I don't argue that having a self automation vehicle is a good thing to have, and there are some foundations that might be in a possition to institute them into a transit program in some cities.
But, Google needs to find some new blood for their mix of "Techies" to start thinking further than where they are right now. I think their technology for this auto is in a stale-mate, and won't go into production untill they get rid of the LASER scanner on the roof. Somebody there must have a personal interest or agenda for keeping that rediculus thing.
Just some of my musings over it. I would like to see them in production, but make it realistically functional, and safe for the passengers.