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Google’s New Car to Change Self-Driving Debate

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 Circle me on Google+

This article was originally published on EBN's sister publication EE Times .

30 comments on “Google’s New Car to Change Self-Driving Debate

  1. _hm
    May 31, 2014

    Wonderful effort!

    It has many nice applications for kids, elderly and less fortunate people.

    But can it be used for wrong purpose – like sabbotage? How can it be prevented?

    It works good in LA. Will it work good in winter and ice of Winnipeg or other extereme environment?

    How will insurance and legal system will work for liability for regular loss of life and other injuries?

     

  2. Ashu001
    May 31, 2014

     Junko,

    Great Blog !

    I really appreciate the effort you have taken in publishing this piece of Research.

    But the way I look at it;all that Mistrust is not without reason.

    First there is the very critical Issue of Jobs-If these Driverless Cars/Robo-Taxis gain traction;Why Would anyone hire a Manned Taxicab?

    At a time;when Jobs Globally are in short-Supply Do we (I mean we the Public/Policy-makers) want to destroy more Jobs and push more folks on the Dole-Queue?

    This is a very-very serious problem in America and Europe currently.

    The Second is the lack of Trustworthiness-Would you really trust such a Device with the Life of Your Little One?

    Say dropping her to Dance Class/Football Practice?

    I would'nt atleast not today.

  3. Ashu001
    May 31, 2014

    hm,

    Fair points them all.

    The way I look at it;Last mile solutions should'nt be automated.Its one thing to automate large Traffic movers but totally another to automate something which has so many seperate Bits and Pieces and Drivers.

     

     

  4. Ashu001
    May 31, 2014

    Junko,

    This just in from Techcrunch.

    http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/22/california-will-start-granting-licenses-for-driverless-cars-in-september/

    Driverless Cars are very much a reality today(atleast in California);how will that apply all across the Country?

    Beats me.

    Just that the Possibilities and Permutations continue to be endless.

     

  5. Wale Bakare
    May 31, 2014

    tech4people,

     

    Very interesting to see California taking this ahead. I have actually been on the lookout for this. In particular how would the licensing authority going to issue licenses to driverless car owners with no driving test.

     

  6. Wale Bakare
    May 31, 2014

    >>This is a very-very serious problem in America and Europe currently<<

    Yeah, absolutely it will throw open many things to battle with in many areas – both on the positive as well as negative sides. Job losses, so also job gains. You would probably be expecting many of the small mechanical workshops to start hiring software developers and technical helpdesk.

  7. Ashu001
    May 31, 2014

    Wale.

    The Job Losses will be in no position to be offset whatever Miniscule Gains you will see here.

    They will be orders of Magnitude Higher.

     

  8. Adeniji Kayode
    June 1, 2014

    @-hm, Good observation. I am looking into how safe this car is, what percentage would accident rate drop with using this car. Is it meant for all roads and all seasons or just a cab for few places.

  9. Adeniji Kayode
    June 1, 2014

    @ tech 4 people, You are right on that. we may quickly get over the problem joblessness this might cause but it will really take many time to entrust what man does very well with “mistakes” sometimes completely over to a programmed machine with efficiency still less than 100%

  10. Adeniji Kayode
    June 1, 2014

    It amazing how much we are getting from exploring the depth of artificial intelligence. its sweetening us how much our discoveries are helping to solve our daily challenges but the area we are not taking care at all is to apply all these discoveries to every aspect of our lives. Do we expect nature to always keep quiet and accept everything we put into it. It jets age I agree but then do we also put away our “cation” or instinct given by nature and entrust our lives to machine that can probably think, iniciate moves or actions but cannot fell.

  11. Adeniji Kayode
    June 1, 2014

    well, for me, I won't mind a customised edition that comes with steering and on- streeing shift for transmission

  12. _hm
    June 1, 2014

    Yes, effort is good. But I compare it to project for say four master degree student and no more.

    It has very long way to go for it to available to public in general and proven on road.

    There are so many unknown factors not yet considered. And no family wants to sacrifice loved ones life for just craze for technology.

    If Google or other manufacturer is ready to make it available to public, will take they liability for 3 million dollar for vehicle per life sacrificed in process? If not, they are not sure of their technology product.

     

  13. Wale Bakare
    June 1, 2014

    Adeniji,

    Even with traditional drived cars/vehicles, safety has been a priority. Even as software now being used to control few functional aspects of drived vehicles/cars, software reliability and efficiency still attract more concentration in terms of safety.

    Nevertheless, the integration and embedding of sensors, actuators, algorithms and other systems could help improve on safety aspect than humans. However, lots need to be done on driveless though. 

     

     

  14. Eldredge
    June 2, 2014

    Among other uses, I could envision bars acquiring their own small fleet of self-driving cars. If a patron has obviously overindulged, send him/her home – the car can find it's way back for the next needy patron!

  15. Eldredge
    June 2, 2014

    Perhaps one way to introduce this technology to the general public would be in local transportation – within amusement parks, airports, and other controlled environments, where highway speeds are not necessary. May increase the comfort level.

  16. FLYINGSCOT
    June 3, 2014

    I agree that this technology should not take on the auto industry head on but instead be depolyed in less demanding better controlled areas (like parks) until the public gets used to them.  It certainly is a new way of thinking about transportation.

  17. Adeniji Kayode
    June 3, 2014

    You are right on that, those are excellent places to test- run the application of driverless car. 

    I also know that  good results would come from there being controlled environments but I, m much interested in results from public places.

  18. Eldredge
    June 3, 2014

    @Adeniji – Local taxi's would be a great test market as well, so long as the taxi company recognizes that some people may object to a driverless vehicle. Certainly, some would also accept it.

  19. Wale Bakare
    June 15, 2014

    @Adeniji, UK government is putting efforts in place to have test pod in one of it major cities. According to a report – “an initial batch of 20 pods running on lanes separated from pedestrians could be operational by 2015. A £1.5m project to design and construct the first driverless vehicles to run in a UK city centre will be announced by the Government today”

    http://news.sky.com/story/1165018/milton-keynes-pioneers-driverless-car-scheme

     

  20. Eldredge
    June 15, 2014

    @Wale – Thanks for posting the article. It will be interesting to watch this projectas it progresses.

  21. Wale Bakare
    June 16, 2014

    I know lot of people would also be watching as government steps in making self-driving a success.I bet you, this type of support would accelerate its commercial production earlier than we might have thought.

    Another important aspect, are we expecting a dedicated road marks for this type of car/vehicle? What impacts would self-driving cars have on the roads then?

     

  22. Eldredge
    June 16, 2014

    @Wale – You bring up an interesting point. The most efficient and cost effective way to implement driverless vehicles would be to intregrate them into the current infrastructure – the existing highway system. At the same time, that strategy poses higher risk from implementing a separate, more controlled infrastructure.

  23. Ashu001
    June 23, 2014

    Wale,

    If you know how California typically does things(insane amounts of Red Tape,Buearacracy and Prohibitively High costs) ;one should'nt be surprised to see that it won't be a major Success initially unless some other Upstart State[I can see Nevada /Arizona/New Mexico];stepping into the breach and trying something radically new and different and at much lower costs than California here.

    California is just too Damn expensive.

     

  24. Ashu001
    June 23, 2014

    Wale,

    Most interesting.

    http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.ae/2014/06/driverless-truck-convoy-tests-in-nevada.html

    Increasingly all over the Western World,We are seeing signs that Truckers are about to lose their Jobs because of Massive Automation(lets not forget that they demand insanely High Salaries too and Blackmail too many People as well).

    Its most interesting that even a Developing Country(which has a Growing Population) like India is struggling to recruit Truck Drivers for their Fleets.

    Shows you how things have changed and how fast.

     

  25. Ashu001
    June 23, 2014

    Adenji,

    Don't worry about it.

    If the Cost is right it will happen easily.

    Case in point

    http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.ae/2014/06/driverless-truck-convoy-tests-in-nevada.html

  26. Ashu001
    June 23, 2014

    Adenji,

    Quite true.

    You will see a lot of Customization going ahead in the future now.

     

  27. Ashu001
    June 23, 2014

    Adenji,

    Nature will eventually rebel.

    Its already happening today with the Extent of Global Climate Change today.

     

  28. Anand
    June 29, 2014

    Another important aspect, are we expecting a dedicated road marks for this type of car/vehicle? What impacts would self-driving cars have on the roads then?

    @Wale, implementation of dedicated road marks for this type of car is very difficult in developing nations like India where traffic is very heavy. Implementation of dedicated road marks in developed nation will also take huge effort because it will require lot of investment in building infrastructure.

  29. Anand
    June 29, 2014

    In particular how would the licensing authority going to issue licenses to driverless car owners with no driving test.

    @tech4people, I had similar doubts regarding this. I guess Google will get the license and they will be responsible for any eventuality because its Google which will be ultimately responsible for the car.

  30. Wale Bakare
    July 20, 2014

    >>Implementation of dedicated road marks in developed nation will also take huge effort because it will require lot of investment in building infrastructure<<

    That's right. However, government supports in terms of incentive perhaps, one of the approach developed nations may adopt in making the driverless more commercialisable. A tax waiver scheme for driverless car owners.

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