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
I like re-framing the concept from something extraordinary with lots of technology and costing hundreds of thousands to car for all...I easily see nobody owning a car in 50 years (like nobody owns a train, a plane or a bus with few very minor exceptions)...but how do we get there is not clear to me...for 50 years there will be a mix of people and computers driving the cars...Kris
@kris, I am glad you like this reframing of the concept. I have always suspected this but I think Google's latest video clip makes it clear...this ain't a car as we know it for our own driving, but it is simply a "ride" -- another transportation mechanism.
Rather than envisioning the day when nobody owns the car, I'd like to see it yet another transportation mechanism we can use when we feel like it...
We are largely in-synch Junko...but if we can use this new mode of transportation why would we want to own a car?...the car will become luxury item that you will be able to purchase for hundreds of thousands of dollars and will require in 50 years a special permit to drive...every common man will use driveless ways of transportation (Google cars, trains, and pilot-less planes) and would not even entertain the thought of owning a car...Kris
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.
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.
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.
This seems like a step in the right direction. Rather than gradually wean folks off of driving, offer them a viable replacement. Something like this could start operating in restricted areas of cities or communities, for instance, as an alternative form of public transportation (the taxi driverw would hate it). Then, as people got used to being driven about by a machine, the self-directed vehicles could be phased out by raising the driver skill level requirements so that not just everyone could get a driver's license.
I agree Rich, that sounds liek a sensible thing to do...I would welcome rising levels of driving skills required right now, half of the people where I live (Vancouver) don't know how to drive...and don't get me started on texting while driving, that already kills more people than alkochol
"Something like this could start operating in restricted areas of cities or communities"
I think this hits the nail on the head. One of the fears I head about self driving cars relates to all of the variabilities that exist when driving. Remove a lot of the variables and a lot of those concerns become mitigated.
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.
@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.
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.
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!)
@betajet Los Angeles has come a long way since Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988.
Compared to 1988, almost anything would be an improvement. It does look like a decent system to get to/from downtown LA but as usual for transit systems, it lacks when trying to get from one suburb to another. The transit system in the SF bay area had the same probelm when I lived there. It was entirely oriented to commuting to/from downtown San Francisco. Industrial parks in outlying areas were not as well served. I think where I worked there was one bus in the AM and one in the PM. Fortunately the nearest BART station had bicycle lockers and it was reasonably flat so I was able to make it work.
I wonder what is currently being discussed or soon to be discussed in the boardrooms of Tesla, Nissan, Crysler, GM, Ford et al? Google, with this and also their Maps and their Streetview have a huge headstart on any answer they may respond with.
Feels to me like a compelling medium-term threat to their skin in the game.
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.
Lovely!! Google has demonstrated again that the team Google has the capability of innovating the right product. This is what is expected out of the self driving car....passengers would just have to seat and enjoy...rest will be taken care by car's automated driving system. Next step would be to demonstrate the same car moving on a busy road...and hope to see that soon!
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!".
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.
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?
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
@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.
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.
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.
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.
With Google behind it, I don't think the concept will die quietly. If they are smart, they will start slow, in a area where the max speeds are slow enough that a malfunction will not immediately result in a fatality. Watch for someone like Disney to partner with them for transports around their facilities. If they can get a decade under their belt without hurting anyone, the next step (private road travel) may be within grasp.
@MWagner_MA, i think that your suggestion for Google partnering with amusement parks, large malls etc where people get to see the self-driving car at work and where there is lower risks for accident can help google generate the right momentum for this project.
It is possible that, after all of the technical hurdles are overcome, the vehicles might not be widely adopted. The Segway was expected to revolutionize the way people ambulate, but it has failed to garner widespread appeal.
Looking like a dork is well put, but I think the reasons for the Segway "failing" to meet the hype are even more fundamental. The Segway is merely a slightly faster way of moving than walking. Ever so slightly. It suffers from the same shortcomings as walking: too slow to move long enough distances in a reasonable amount of time, can only carry as much stuff as you can carry on yourself, and you're at the mercy of the elements. So, why all the hype?
On the other hand, this automous car won't have all of those shortcomings, but my sense is, it's still overhyped. The bigger advantages of autonomous cars won't materialize until they are made to drive on roads with NO human drivers at the wheel. That's when you'll see big gains in efficient use of the roadway, including closer distances between cars and much higher average speeds.
Until such a time, autonomous cars will be much like Segways vs walking. Not that interesting. IMO.
I once almost had a accident on Interstate 80, in a construction zone.
Somehow a car that was over packed pulled from between some construction equipment, in front of me.
This driver could not see out any window but right in front of him, and he was pulling *across* the interstate traffic, not going with the flow. He could not see out the passenger window, that was facing me, he did not know I was there.
He shot out from between the construction equipment about twenty feet in front of me, while I was doing 45 MPH, remember it was a construction zone.
The correct solutions to the problem was to floor the gas, so that I could get in front of him while there was still space, and get off on the right hand brim of the road.
Applying the brakes would have guaranteed that a crash happened in that situation, there was not enough space between the two of us to stop.
When do you think a 'Smart Car' will be able handle this scenario? Then I will buy one.
Sweet, I need one to replace my 91 Spirit I have had since college. Question, how does one carry the occasional mattress, oven, helium cylinder, metal storage shed kit, sofa, lawn mower, 10' conduit, 8' 2X4, tent poles, screen door, 50" LCD TV, or dozens of other items that can fit in or on my sedan? And no, I do not want a Google truck.
Another reason they reframe this as a service , is that a service will require much less cars for a given market , since they are shared, And much less maintnence ,because fleets are much better optimized towrads maintence than single cars, and much less care can be given on usual bullshit car branding , because people don't own those.
This makes google's service much less profitable in the eyes of car companies, and not a good fit with their current business model.
All this is to make it hard for car companies to change and comepte efficiently with google.
Ah, and did i forget google owns a part of UBER - the highly sucsessful taxi ordering startup - which will probably be the distribution channel of car services in the future ?
What can i say - it's always fun to watch strategies by google - because they play so well.
I recon the best way forward is a new city designed for these critters.
Lets call it Google City. This is the place to live? You wake up in your Google aware bed, leave for work in your Google transport machine, which of course anticipates your need for travel because your Google house has told the Google City of your need to go to the Google work centre. Have a wonderful Google day and return to your Google house for yet another Google sleep night.
Yes I am an old reactionry. I do not trust my clothes now until I give them a vicious bolt of EMP to burnt out the tags.
@alex_m1: I blast all items that have a radio tag when bought, even if the shop appears to do so. I am paranoid, it goes with my dual personality of Crusty.
I just hate to give away my shopping habits for free.
It's bad enough with electronic shopping and all the exciting offers they think I will like because I bought a dog lead last week, I dont use the dog lead for dog type things, Max may like to comment on that?
I expect some day now the shop doorway will say out loud to people "Oh I say is that last years coat, it sure is wearing well, but what a shame it's not in this years shade and shape."
If the tags do not show up anymore, then the shops will have to think I have been shopping else, or at the second hand shonky shop and possibly make me a better offer to shop with them?
It sounds like an interesting project. Unfortunately I already have more ideas for projects than I have time to do them in. It seems to me that in years gone by, I used to have more time for "after work" activities...
I don't mind the chips that I know about and approve the use of. Its the other ones that bother me.
@elizabethsimon: It seems to me that in years gone by, I used to have more time for "after work" activities...
I have exactly the same problem. How did I find time to go to work and do projects before I retired?
At least I now only have to worry about the driverless Google car running me over, because the inteligent implants in me are signalling the car that I am a life expired component. LOL
Anyway I have half the problem of my kitchen reflow oven made. I just need time to programme the soldering profiles and get it to learn how to achieve them. But before I do that I need to finish off the ceiling in the bathroom and fit the new sink water heater in the en-suite, and get the car serviced.
Perhaps I do need a Google car? At least it would drive it'self to the garage and get serviced without my intervention.
OMG I have become a convert to the Google driverless car and see what it does now. I accept it and it immediatly starts spending my money without telling me. AGH!!!!!!!!
@Crusty... "I have exactly the same problem. How did I find time to go to work and do projects before I retired?"
My answer is that I don't. Or not nearly as much personal stuff as I would liike to. I don't understand these guys who wonder what they will do when they retire. I still will not have enough hours in the day.....
In retirement, I think some of the time goes in walking the dog and keeping fit. Was I fit when at work? No.
Am I fitter in retirement yes, because I have time to walk and exercise the dog, Cycle to the shops and swim. I think I may be fit enough now to wean myself of the blood pressure medication that working full time got me onto.
Come on driverless car spoil my aim to reach 100 years of age. The next 30 years will be fun spreading mayhem across the likes of EE-Times and other blog sites.
@Crusty I am with you on the RFID cards. The banks should offer you the option of whether you want the RFID enabled or not. I will admit I do use it, and it is very convenient, but I would rather be without it and have to put the PIN in, even though it takes slightly longer.
Do you or anyone else have any figures on how close you have to be to "Steal" your card info? The cards have to be within about half an inch of the chip readers for them to work, so I would have thought you could not steal the info at much more than this distance. Also if you have several cards in your wallet, wouldn't they all respond together and interfere with each other? Any RFID experts out there??
@David: From my long experience of the card readers in the London Transport Oyster system. They have to be near the reader, but thats only so you get a clean and fast signal. In respect of mutiple cards responding together they can do that and in the case of the Oyster system I have know an Oyster card and a debit card both pay for the same journey if offered in a wallet at the same time. They can be seen as two transactions. Though the powers that be will say this can not happen.
One wheeze our city boys like to do is cut out the Oyster chip from the card and glue it to a finger nail or item of hand clothing which looks very smart when you just wave your hand over the reader but a bit of a dork when your credit on the chip runs out.
I don't see direct consumer sales of these future cars happening. Instead, what I see is the automation of companies like Lyft, Uber, and traditional taxi services using fleets of these vehicles. They will be a perfect fit for this purpose and will prove to be hugely successful in this niche.