Friday, April 27, 2012

As Interest in Autonomous Cars Rises, Google Shops For Automaker Partners

As Interest in Autonomous Cars Rises, Google Shops For Automaker Partners:

Image: Google
A study released by J.D. Power and Associates shows that 1 in 5 consumers would purchase a vehicle equipped with autonomous driving capabilities. The report comes days after Google expressed interest in partnering with automakers to bring the technology to market.
Speaking at the SAE World Congress in Detroit, Google project manager Anthony Levandowski told a crowd of hundreds of engineers that, “We don’t want to make cars. That’s not our interest.” But Levandowski admitted that Google is looking to partner with an automaker or supplier to offer autonomous functionality, saying “All options are open. From giving the technology away to licensing it to working with Tier 1s, Tier 2s, working with the OEMs, [or] building a car with them.”
Google currently has around 10 self-driving Toyota Prius Hybrids and at least one Lexus RX450h – the latter of which, Sebastian Thrun, the Google engineer behind its autonomous vehicle program, took for a trip to Lake Tahoe yesterday and posted a photo on Google+ (on right).
The search giant plans to expand its fleet to include several dozen autonomous vehicles by year’s end in an attempt to log at least 1 million miles before the technology becomes available to the public. And according to Levandowski, the technology could be in cars by as early as next year.
But before widespread adoption takes place, there are a variety of legal and insurance hurdles to overcome.
Google successfully lobbied to get legislation passed in Nevada to allow the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads, and Senate bill 1298 is currently winding its way through the California legislature in an attempt to set standards for autonomous vehicles in the state. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
The Mountain View, CA-based company is also talking with insurance providers about crafting dedicated policies that would cover autonomous vehicle owners. Google isn’t saying which insurers it’s approached, but the plans would include rates based on when the driver is in control and when the integrated system takes command.
The public’s interest in autonomous driving functionality continues to grow, with J.D. Power data showing that 20% of potential buyers would opt for technology that takes control of the vehicle in start-and-stop traffic, assuming that it would cost around $3,000. And male drivers living in urban areas were the most interested in self-driving vehicles.
Still, that means the majority of the public needs to be convinced that the technology is both useful, desirable and safe. And for those that continue to enjoy their time behind the wheel, Levandowski is quick to point out that “We only want to drive cars when they are fun.”

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