The Google car is a new species on the planet, seeking to prove the less than traditional way of exploring the road vehicle stereotype is here not just for show, but for new business opportunities in a yet to be explored automotive “garden”.
For now, the project is advancing steadily, with self-driving cars made by the technology giant still using their old Lexus and Toyota shells – while the Google-built pod-like prototype still spending most of its time in the company’s secret garage. “We’re conscious of the impression we can make while driving around town,” comments Nathaniel Fairfield, the software design leader for the five-year-old self-driving car project. “If we need to, we’ll take control from the computer. But mainly, it’s out here to learn.” Project chief Chris Urmson recently delivered a TED talk in Vancouver about the state of the project – an opportunity for the company to reaffirm its leading position in the field. That’s needed because numerous automakers and even other technology giants – including, rumors say, Apple – are entering the ring of autonomous driving. Even Sony has made similar noise. Not to mention Uber Technologies has partnered with obotics experts at Carnegie Mellon University.
Meanwhile, Urmson, a Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. graduate and a past winner of the DARPA Grand Challenge for robotic vehicles, says an internal finish line is close now – of sorts. That means the Lexus and Toyota cars have thoroughly mapped Google’s suburban hometown, so now the company anticipates its two-person pods could roam the streets of Mountain View sometimes later this year.