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
Google is knowing for its revolutionary concepts that changes the world, name it Google Search, Google Docs, Google Mail, Android and lots more, this is really something amazing Google has shown, all the tachees were busy discussing about the threats of a self-driving car, but this model is really working smoothly and safely. There is no doubt that this will qualify all the hurdles and tests as Google is after it.
There are so many places that this driverless car can be put to service that it might consume a few years full production (wheneever it goes for mass production). So Google really does not have to worry about its deployment on the public roads.
There are other avenues aplenty - The School, college and university campuses, the hospitals, the airports, the big factories internal shuttles and so on.
The concept will get automaticall porven and the fear of the machine will also go away with such an implementation.
This looks great, but I think it will be a long time before a totally autonomous car is allowed on general public roads.
Private roads or a controlled set of public roads, however, are another matter.
I could see this being used in a closed community or small towns (retirement community? large college campuses?) to allow people easy ways to get around. Also, as AZskibum mentions, you could use them for getting from airline terminals to your parked car (taking you straight to your car rather than waiting for a bus that has to drive throughout the large parking lot).
I've heard of cities working on personal transport vehicles on private roads. With this you could use public roads and save a lot on construction costs.
DARPA had a number of self-driving car competitions over the past 9 or so years that started out with cars going very slow on straight roads, and yet still driving off the road, and progressing to cars driving relatively fast across complex terrain. All kinds of very expensive technology was used by the various participants. Stanford had a team that won one of the more recent competitions. There were a lot of participants, and therefore a lot of losers.
A lot of the technology that went to Google came from people who worked on the winning cars. It is all too easy to say "Why are you using this technology, why not that?" It is a lot harder to actually build a car and have it compete successfully.
There may be more competitions in the future. DesertData, if you have some good ideas, build something and try it out.
@Bert, the washing-machine-gone-wild scene in movies?! Ha, ha, I would love to see those!
Seriously, I see your point. We may no longer fear of riding on no-driver trains...
But here's the thing. Although Kris mentioned that we don't fear airplanes flying on auto pilot, airplanes do still have pilots on them. And we do have a lot of respect for those humans who seem to understand how to drive such a complex machine.
I don't think we are over that deep-seated fear yet.
"Carmakers should never underestimate our fear for machines."
They should also not underestimate the thirst for knowledge of hackers and car hot rodders. I'm not sure "hot rodder" is the right term, but it's the same people. My prediction is that we're only a few years, at most, away from "self-driving" kits being sold in the back of car magazines. "Not for street use", of course.
I'm guessing it's these hot rodders and hackers that will lead the way.
I agree Bert...it takes a while but people adjust quickly...I ride no driver subway train in Vancouver frequently and thousands of people do not pay any attention to missing driver...planes fly on auto-pilot etc
My first thought was the automated trains you ride from terminal to terminal at some airports, but without the restriction of riding rails to & from specific destinations. Google's new autonomous car looks more like a new form of public transportation -- and similarly priced too, I suspect.
@Bert, I love your description of self-drivin car as "a transportation pod"! That's brilliant! While the term might lack the sex appeal in a marketing sense, that, in a nutshell, accurately describes the message Google was trying to covey in that promo video.
Mostly, Junko, people might "fear" machines they aren't used to. I doubt too many people still fear, oh you know, their washing machines. Even if occasionally you see the washing-machine-gone-wild scene in movies.
I don't think too many people fear the self-driving trains in airports anymore. Heck, we've seen that humanly driven trains have a way of running off the tracks just because the operator zoned out for no apparent reason. Several times, in recent memory, in fact.
The other thing is, remember the hype about Segways?