Google’s Self-Driving Cars and the (In)Credible Threat to the Automobile Industry | James Hooks

Michael Bay won’t be out of a job anytime soon. Until our cars actually start turning into robots that hate each other, road rage may soon(ish) become a thing of the past.

Fully autonomous cars, the Mountain View company said, has always been the goal behind this project. After clocking in hundreds of thousands of miles with self-driven modified Priuses and Lexuses, on May 27, Google announced plans to deploy at least 100 autonomous, Google-built, self-driving vehicles beginning later this year. The two-seat cars, which look like a cross between a Smart Car and a giant toe, will have top speeds of 25 miles per hour and no steering wheel.

Not only will there be no steering wheel, there will also be no gas or brake pedal. The prototypes have buttons to begin and end the drive, and the passengers set the destination into the car using voice commands or entering the data into the on-board computer. The car will react to traffic, turns, other vehicles, and pedestrians based on computer programs that predict what external factors will occur, with data from sensors including radar and cameras that read in real time what other objects are doing.

Madness, you say?

Not so mad that other auto manufacturers aren’t taking notice. General Motors’ Product Development chief, Mark Reuss, was very blunt and open about how the automobile industry sees Google’s foray into their space:

“Anybody can do anything with enough time and money.  If they set their mind to it, I have no doubt [that they will be] a very serious competitive threat.  [The car is] kind of cool [and looks sort of like a VW Beetle]. [Automation is] going to be a creep, it’s not going to be a mind-bending thing.  I don’t think you’re going to see an autonomous vehicle take over the city anytime soon.”

General Motors has indicated that it will be implementing its Super Cruise technology into future models, with their fully-automated vehicles (along with Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz) hitting the road by 2020 (currently, GM’s Super Cruise is merely advanced cruise-control that is attempting to move closer to Google’s model). And over the new couple of decades, self-driving cars will reach 11.8 million units by 2035, with all cars to be autonomous by 2050.

Government agencies have reacted positively to Google thus far. The fact that the California DMV will next summer publish regulations that allow the public to use truly driverless cars shows how close the future is for us. The changes this will have for our society will be incredible. The blind, the elderly, and the paralyzed will be able to travel without assistance from others. Lives would be saved as the 33,000 deaths that occur each year due to automobile accidents would be significantly reduced. Commutes would become more stable and less stressful. There would potentially be fewer emissions polluting the air.

Road rage on the 405 in 2050.
Road rage on the 405 in 2050.

As our society becomes more open to implementing next-generation technology into our daily lives and more knowledgeable about the damage that vehicles do to the environment, Google is leading the way in making that change. And as much of the technology behind Google’s fleet of Autobots is proprietary, it will be awhile before auto manufacturers catch up.

I look forward to the day our cars not only self-drive, but turn into robots that pontificate to one another. I also look forward to when I can tell my future children and grandchildren tales of the wild wild west of today. “When I was your age, we had to drive our own cars, and many of us died doing it.”