Robot Cars - The True Kings of the Road

Margie is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Why Robotic Cars Are So Damn Exciting!

It truly is wonderful to live in this day and age, where technology is rapidly making the science fiction of yesterday a reality. Few things excite me as much as robotics, and in the first part of my robot series, I want to look at a new technology ready to take over the roads - the driverless car.

Google - the Car Company

It's not coincidental that one of the company's major division is called "Android." (though obviously the division currently produces mobile phone software)

After Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) engineer Sebastian Thrun, co-inventor of Google Street View, had friends die in car accidents, he wanted to invent a safer way to drive. Hence, the driverless car, in this case Google has equipped the Toyota (NYSE: TM) Prius with their revolutionary software and technology.

How is it Safer?

The car does not text, it looks all directions at all times, and it certainly will never drive drunk, and when you get to the restaurant, it will let you out, and then go park itself, saving you additional money on the valet. Then again, in a place like San Fransisco, the car might drive itself around for two hours looking for parking, using up all those savings in gas.

Not only is the driverless car safer, but because of their responsiveness, cars could be stacked closer together driving the same speed, which would reduce the amount of future roads that would be needed to be built by governments, thus saving us money as a society.

Additional Benefits to Society

A friend of mine who is a knee-jerk environmentalist complained that such cars would likely get lower gas mileage because it would take a decent amount of energy to power the on board computers, and the lasers the cars use to "see the road."

I looked at her incredulously and explained that the amount of resources used to repair/ replace damaged cars far exceeded the extra gas being used. Google cars have logged over 300,000 miles on Nevada roads without an accident thus far. How much extra gas for the ambulances and policeman who come to the scene of an accident? How much gas do we waste revving up our car when the light turns green and the driver in front of us is red-light texting?

Under the presupposition that driverless cars will be safer, society will save a ton of money on insurance! How much cash do insurance companies shell out for irresponsible drivers? This is cash that consumers will be able to use on something else. All the money, energy, and time wasted due to bad/negligent driving will be channeled into more productive endeavors for our society!

Who Will be Against It?

No matter who comes along with revolutionary ideas/ products, there will always be someone against it, whether that’s Jesus, machines of Industrial Revolution, pornography, or robotics. Who’s going to complain about driverless cars?

Cab driver unions - Robotic cabs from the airport will be cheaper, safer, and less surly.

Auto body repair shops - "Do you know how many people are going to be out of work because of these robots?!" will be a refrain you'll be hearing a lot in the coming years.

Are They Legal?

On Sept. 25, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill legalizing driverless cars in California, joining the ranks of Nevada and Florida where driverless cars are legal. It’s only a matter of time til they become legal in all 50 states.

Competitors

Audi, BMW, Ford (NYSE: F) and Volvo have been working on self-driver car technology for years. Additionally GM (NYSE: GM) has begun to work on it as well. Here's a short article about  Ford's driverless car plans.

When Will They Be Available

According to this column: "Ford CEO Bill Ford, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, says that futuristic dream could be a reality by 2025."

Here's an article about GM's driverless dreams. Note that GM believes the car will be ready by 2015, which makes me think that it might be a misquote of Mr. Ford.

If you take a look at this demonstration video of the driverless car, you’ll see that Google’s technology doesn’t appear to be that far away from prime time. (I truly believe the video is worth a 10 minutes to watch.)

According to several articles I have read, Google's technology is in the most advanced state of readiness.

The Take-Away for Investors

I am sincerely excited about this new technology. Google has a chance to make a huge splash here by supplying the software and computer hardware, and will help diversify company profits from the 90% that come from search.

The main thing that excites me as a citizen of the world, is that the coming profits on what is truly revolutionary technology are not coming from the banking industry making predatory loans or a casino sucking up money from the stupid, but something of real tangible value for society that will have the positive ripple effects I mentioned above and many others I did not.

When the robotic car is available, I’ll be the first to take a test drive, and don’t mind me if I fall asleep at the wheel. It shouldn’t bother you a bit!


margiecfl has a long position in Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Ford, 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. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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