If you’d like to know what makes Google’s self-driving car tick, the company is hosting an interactive Hangout as part of its Maker Camp field trip program. The festivities start on Friday, August 1st at 11AM PT/2PM ET, but you can start asking your questions right now. In addition to a Q&A session with participants, Google will be discussing how its driverless car operates, as well as the project’s latest developments.
The US isn’t the only country making preparations for self-driving cars, the UK is in the process of revamping its laws to allow driverless vehicles to cruise its roads. Science minister David Willetts recently told Mail Online that he has started talking with the Department for Transport to help British companies develop their own self-driving cars, with efforts currently underway in Oxford.
Google Ventures’ $250M investment in Uber makes a lot more sense with some news reported by Jessica Lessin this morning. The site is reporting that Google is making its own driverless cars to be “robo taxis”:
Google Inc., which has been working on software to help major automakers build self-driving cars, also is quietly going around them by designing and developing a full-fledged self-driving car, according to people familiar with the matter.
While the Prius has been Google’s main guinea pig of the self-driving car efforts, it looks like Google would like to control the entire manufacturing experience for these cars. In addition, the company’s focus is geared towards driver-free taxi services rather than selling the cars direct to consumers. Read more
The Wall Street Journal just published a lengthy report detailing how Google convinced Nevada state assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, as well as other states’ transportation committees, to introduce legislation that would help legalize its driverless cars for streets.
“This will save taxpayers countless millions of dollars and revolutionize driving as we know it. No more being distracted, no more accidents, and not another DUI attorney again.”
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company persuaded lawmakers, according to The Wall Street Journal, with “demonstrations and rides in its exotic cars,” and it subsequently earned “legislative wins” in Nevada, California, and Florida. There are even bills pending before legislators in Hawaii, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and the District of Columbia:
In the process, the Mountain View, Calif., company is building its credentials as an astute political operator. Google has been “pretty savvy” at navigating state capitols, said Frank Douma, a transportation-policy author and associate director at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. With its self-driving cars, Google “knew what they were doing by moving forward in Nevada” before approaching bigger states, he said. “If you blow it in the first state, you’ve really got problems.”
Success at legalizing self-driving car technology has broader implications for Google. Skills learned from lobbying state lawmakers could aid other endeavors that will require local policy-making, including the potential expansion of its Google Fiber Internet and TV service into markets dominated by cable companies.
Google spent roughly $9 million during the first and second quarters of 2012 lobbying in Washington and coaxing lawmakers and U.S. Department of Transportation officials, but Google did not disclose how much went toward lobbying state officials.
Uh-oh, Google better step on the pedal: Automaker Nissan recently unveiled a self-driving car at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies tradeshow in Tokyo.
The concept car, dubbed “NSC-2015, can park or drive up to a passenger when commanded by a smartphone. In the Nissan press video above, a demonstration at CEATEC 2012 shows the modified Nissan Leaf responding to an Android-powered Samsung Galaxy S III.
Nissan specifically said the car could search for an empty space and park itself after a driver has left the vehicle and then the driver could later summon the car with just a simple smartphone tap.
Update: During a Q&A following the signing of Google’s autonomous car bill today, Sergey Brin was asked how long until the public would be using the vehicles. While noting he plans for a broader subset of employees to test the vehicles in the near future, Brin noted he expects the public to begin using the vehicles within 5 years. Sergey also noted the company has had conversations with many car manufacturers but Google doesn’t currently have plans to build cars itself.
“Self driving cars do not run red lights” -Sergey
In a tweet from the Google Public Policy Twitter account, Google noted today that California Gov. Jerry Brown will be signing its autonomous vehicle bill supporting Google’s effort to bring its self-driving cars to public roads. Google will be streaming the signing at 1pm PT on the Google YouTube Channel (embedded above).
Google Public Policy (@googlepubpolicy) September 25, 2012
The Bay Citizen reports Google is now only awaiting approval from Gov. Jerry Brown as its driverless car bill passed 37-0 in the Senate and 74-2 in the Assembly. The bill, which was put together by legislative staffer Howard Posner and sponsored by state Sen. Alex Padilla, would allow Google and other companies to test their driverless cars on public roads and require new laws governing the operation of the vehicles in public:
Padilla’s bill, SB 1298, would allow companies to test self-driven cars on public roads and require the DMV to draft rules governing use of the vehicles by the public. The measure also would define a car’s “operator” as the person sitting in the driver’s seat, or if there’s no one in the driver’s seat, the person who “causes the autonomous technology to engage.”… In its final form, the bill would give the DMV authority to reject the use of driverless cars that did not meet its standards. The measure also would require that owners be notified about what data their car is collecting, but it did not resolve questions of liability.
Google provided a statement to The Bay Citizen in an email:
You knew this was going to happen at some point. A Google automated car with that spinny thing at the top was in what looks like a minor rear ending incident near Google HQ in Mountainview. While it doesn’t appear that anyone was hurt (even the two Prii above), it isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for the fledgling product that Google hopes will materialize into a useful product within a decade.
Before we pass judgement based on a tipster’s photo – we’ll wait for Google’s post mortem.
Update: As we thought – human was at the wheel for this fender-bender. Google sent over this statement:
“Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car.”