Google’s Driverless Cars Hit the Nevada Roads
Karen is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is one of those companies whose managers and software engineers aren’t afraid to try anything. Sometimes it pays off big as in the case of YouTube, which has morphed from a nice place to post your cute sleeping cat video into a full-fledged worldwide news agency. And then there are products like Google Coupon, Dodgeball and Jaiku that leave you wondering what Google was thinking. But Google’s newest offering is totally off the web grid and pushes the company in a whole new direction.
Google has paired with automaker Toyota (NYSE: TM) to equip Prius vehicles with autonomous software. The cars should be available to the public within the next three to five years. So far autonomous Prius cars have racked up over 140,000 miles driving throughout Southern California without so much as a fender-bender. When an accident did occur, it’s because a human had slid behind the wheel to drive.
Google’s autonomous car takes the most dangerous element out of the driving equation: the human behind the wheel. The program works by taking information gathered through radar sensors, lasers, cameras and GPS satellite navigation, adds data taken from humans driving cars, and combines all the information into a software package. Once installed, the car can read traffic lights and road signs, adjust to changing weather conditions and traffic situations, and maintain a buffer zone to avoid obstacles, including pedestrians, bike riders and parked cars. Although eliminating car accidents was the primary goal, autonomous cars also get better gas mileage, eliminate traffic congestion and provide transportation for people no longer able to drive.
But Google’s not alone in the race to commercially develop autonomous cars. In a page torn out of the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY) have designed an autonomous taxi cab controlled by your iPad. The passenger simply sends a message through the iPad and the GPS navigation system guides the taxi right to the passenger’s location. You can even follow the taxi’s progress on your iPad screen. Once inside the taxi, the passenger types in their desired destination and the autonomous software program does the rest. Autonomous taxi cabs are already on the streets of Berlin.
For consumers who want a truly luxurious ride, General Motors (NYSE: GM) has you covered. Known as the “Super Cruise,” the autonomous system developed by GM will be available in their Cadillac ATS and XTS models and should be available by mid-decade.
Last year Nevada became the first state in the U.S. to allow driverless vehicles on the road. These cars will have unique red license plates with the words “autonomous vehicle” along the bottom of the tag. Right now only beta test cars are allowed on the road, but once all testing is successfully completed, autonomous cars will become part of the daily traffic flow.
No longer regulated to science fiction, autonomous cars should be on the road before 2020. And as a leading autonomous car software developer set to reap the rewards, Google may decide it’s in their best financial interest to devote more resources to new off-the-web projects.
Fool blogger Karen Rogers does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this entry. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, General Motors Company, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.