by James Carson
Readers old enough to remember the Sinclair C5 might have experienced a déjà vu moment at the news that Google is developing a driverless car. As with the C5 scepticism seemed to surround the story, with followers of the Financial Times Twitterfeed giving full vent to their doubts:
@FT prototype destined to be flipped/thrown off the road by any moving vehicle, be it car, truck, bike, or squirrel. pic.twitter.com/9m2Pi8hPQL
— Fabienne (@tresbienne) May 28, 2014
Looks great. But only if You’re three years old.
— Dick Darlington (@Darlington_Dick) May 28, 2014
But not everyone is so dismissive of Google’s latest idea. Matt Warman, the Daily Telegraph’s chief technology writer puts the Google car in the vanguard of a revolution which may signal the beginning of the end of car ownership.
“These aren’t driverless cars; they’re driverless taxis, perpetually in motion and powered by Google’s detailed knowledge of traffic flow, its carefully analysed sense of demand and the knowledge that even on a quiet residential street, people need to get places.”
The Observer’s John Naughton took the vision further:
“…what if urban areas were flooded with Google’s autonomous pods, each capable of being whistled up in an instant, using a smartphone which can detect the one nearest to you? It could pick you up and deliver you safely to your destination. And do so much more cheaply than any human-driven vehicle. Wouldn’t that be a more rational way of organising urban transportation?”
Add to that the growing issues of congestion, parking, air pollution and traffic accidents, along with an already declining number of car owners, and Google’s innovation starts to sound rational.
And the driverless car has implications reaching beyond the transport sector. Launching the prototype, Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, emphasised the benefits to the old and the poor:
“There are many people under-served by transportation today – the elderly, a lack of cabs and buses in some places…It’s an issue and a real challenge for them.”
For The Washington Post, this observation wasn’t a sudden outpouring of corporate compassion for senior citizens, but part of a canny marketing strategy targeting the “grey dollar”. As elsewhere in the developed world, Americans are living longer, more active lives, and, as the Post noted, a significant section of the retired population is becoming more affluent:
“They’ve got the money. Boomers hold a vast share of the country’s wealth, and, more importantly, they’re willing to spend it.”
Some commentators are naturally concerned about the safety aspects of driverless cars. Yet a fleet of Google cars has been undergoing trials on busy Californian roads, and the only time one has been involved in an accident was when a human had taken over the controls. For The Observer’s John Naughton, the insurance industry should be sitting up and paying attention to that.
“One could envisage the day when car owners would have to pay higher premiums if they wished to take the wheel themselves.”
So, what originally seemed like a here-today, gone-tomorrow technology story might have long-term implications for urban transportation, financial services and social policy.
Further reading (you may need to be a member to view these articles):
Autonomous road vehicles (POSTnote no 443)
Peak car: the future of travel
Carmageddon (impact of demographic and social trends on urban form), IN Urban Realm, Vol 4 No 14 Summer 2013, pp64-67
‘Now without my car I don’t know what I’d do’: the transportation needs of older people in rural Lincolnshire, IN Local Economy, Vol 28 No 6 Sep 2013, pp553-566
Transport-related social exclusion amongst older people in rural Southwest England and Wales, IN Journal of Rural Studies, Vol 28 No 4 Oct 2012, pp412-421
Coming of age (mobility for the older population), IN Surveyor, 7 Sep 2012, pp20-21
The end of the road, IN New Scientist, Vol 211 No 2825 13 Aug 2011, pp26-27
Thanks for the comment and the link. It certainly has the potential to revolutionise transport infrastructure and places and with Google behind it there’s every chance that it can succeed. As you point out in your article they almost thrive on disruption!
This is incredible to see how Google progressed within 1 year about their program “Google self-driving car project”. This is now not anymore, a concept with technical tests using a Toyota cars, as it was last year, with Prius or Lexus RX; this is not anymore a technical solution with engineers embedded in these cars, checking the issues of the software developed.
This concept allows Google to propose a completely automatized car without any steering wheel nor any pedals of acceleration or brake nor any engineer embedded in the car.
A new model of usage born
These cars will not be sold by Google; the cost of cars remains too expensive from now; some rumors speaks about a price of 1 million of dollars for the first Google cars, if we integrate manufacturing costs and R&D costs included; and the running costs of these cars is unknown for the moment; for sure, limited people could buy these cars if they would be allowed to buy them.
These cars will be firstly rented by Google to replace your car to go to supermarket, to go to airport or to go some meetings in your town. This model reinvent the usage of transports.
If you are interested, I have posted an article on this incredible & amazing Google Car 2.0 that you can read here: http://worldofinnovations.net/2014/06/15/connected-car-new-model-building-by-google/