updated 07:15 pm EDT, Wed April 25, 2012
Google gauging demand for self-driving cars
Google's automotive technology lead Anthony Levandowski revealed on Wednesday to the WSJ that he had been on a trip to Detroit to gauge interest from car designers in its self-driving car technology. While there were "millions of miles" to go in testing a truly safe system, it wanted partners in the industry to have cars available within the next ten years, and possibly "much sooner." The approach wouldn't just be confined to pre-installed systems and could involve aftermarket add-ons or subsidizing the cost entirely to make it up in revenues for Google's usual services.
Which companies were talking wasn't mentioned. Detroit is still a hub not just for US builders like Chrysler, Ford or GM, but many international companies that have a US footprint.
One necessary side discussion was with insurers, to gauge how they would treat crashes. While a truly reliable automated car would be inherently safer than one at risk of human error, it would both face risks from regular cars as well as software glitches. Self-driving cars like Google's current experimental Prius have manual overrides, but that might not be enough to avoid an accident that would be no fault of the driver's.
The car technology is being developed at the Google[x] Labs, a side-project of the company's that works on long-term projects not necessarily related to its core business, such as Project Glass. Google has readily admitted that some of these projects might not produce results for years, if at all, leaving the Detroit talks part of an early process rather than definitive plans.