Google (GOOG) has been working on its driverless car project for nearly a decade, and it has progressed to the point that several states are allowing the autonomous vehicles — along with their human co-pilot/passenger on roads.
Pretty impressive, but now Google has taken the next step toward true computer control. It unveiled a new version of its Google Car that loses the traditional controls altogether.
No gas pedal, no brake pedal, no steering wheel.
In its official blog post announcing the new prototype of its self-driving Google Car, the company outlines a few of the reasons why it is doing this:
“Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.”
Sounds great. But what are the odds we’ll actually see a commercially produced Google Car on the roads?
Google Car: Why It Could Work
For as sci-fi as a self-driving Google Car seems, there’s actually a laundry list of reasons why it could actually work, or is appealing enough to get much-needed support:
Safety: According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Stats, more than 33,000 Americans die annually in motor vehicle accidents. Add the 2.2 million passenger injuries and 116,000 non-occupant injuries reported by the U.S. Census (2009 figures), and the $99 billion yearly the CDC says those collisions cost and it’s clear that crashing vehicles are a deadly and expensive issue. Taking human error out of the equation should greatly reduce those numbers.
Easing Traffic: Traffic congestion and gridlock plague cities, but expanding highway systems is time-consuming and expensive. But it might also be unnecessary if Google Cars became the norm. Human drivers cause much of the congestion through poor driving habits such as rubbernecking as they pass accidents, merging incorrectly, improper lane use and aggressive or slow speeds. (Raise your hand if you’re guilty.) For example, Toronto drivers face one of the worst commutes in North America at an average of 80 minutes, but the Toronto Star’s San Grewal interviewed a traffic expert who says improving driver behavior could reduce that congestion by 25 to 30%. The Google Car — programmed to follow the rules of the road and react to other cars — would be the ultimate solution to bad driver behavior, and thus help traffic flow.
Productivity: Productivity also would be boosted. Think of the time you spend commuting in you car today and imagine if that time was not only reduced, but you had the option of reading a book, checking email, writing a report or watching a movie while in transit. With a self-driving car, everyone becomes a passenger, and distracted driving is no longer a concern.