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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Google Self-Driving Cars Looking Good

Story first appeared in The Detroit News.
Search engine giant Google Inc. thinks self-driving cars can be on U.S. roads in the next few years and is in talks with automakers to roll out the technology. The most important thing computers can do in the next 10 years is drive a car.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google could make an announcement as early as next year on when it might offer the self-driving technology, he said.

The company is currently attempting to show that their driverless vehicle is much safer than a human driver. Google needs to prove mathematically that the self-driving cars are safer — and make fewer mistakes — than human drivers. Google says that its self-driving cars on average complete a test course a couple of seconds faster than human drivers.

Google's self-driving vehicles are retrofitted Toyota Prius sedans with added sensors and cameras. Google could partner with one automaker to offer the technology or it could retrofit a small fleet of vehicles.

Google is also talking to suppliers to find partners that want to work with us. All options are open. From giving the technology away to licensing it to working with Tier 1s, Tier 2s, working with the OEMs, building a car with them, everything is open and we're trying to figure out which paths make the most sense.

Automakers understand it is happening and they want to play a role in that. Not everyone is excited to be first. Some of them are and we want to work with the ones that want to be first.

The company is moving ahead, meeting with insurance companies as part of a multi-pronged effort to make computer-driven cars a reality.

Google says it is not clear if the search engine would have to provide some insurance to early drivers using the system.

He said that Google wouldn't wait for a recall requested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make fixes. Google would have the power to deactivate its self-driving system remotely — something it could do if any safety issue arose.

The company has logged more than 250,000 miles in a fleet of about 10 self-driving cars — but wants to log at least 1 million miles before it offers the technology to the general public.

Many people have raised liability concerns about what happens if a driverless car caused a crash.

Google plans to expand its testing fleet to several dozen — and initially to a small fleet similar to the size of General Motors Corp.'s EV1 program. Google doesn't want to eliminate driving by people — but make it safer.

Even when semi-autonomous driving capability is available on vehicles, the system will have operational limitations based on external factors such as weather and visibility of lane markings. When reliable data is unavailable, the driver will need to steer.

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