Anticipation for the Google autonomous vehicle has been building ever since the project was announced almost 5 years ago. This week an Automotive News journalist was given a ride in the finished product, and if there’s one word he could use to describe it, he would use this: ordinary.
As Gabe Nelson from Auto News points out, “that’s the extraordinary thing about it.” From the moment it took off, he was relaxed because he felt as if a human was in control. This publicity ride was taken through the surface roads of Mountain View, California. These roads are notoriously tricky because of their start-stop tendencies and alternative traffic, such as bikers and joggers. According to Mr. Nelson, the Google car took these with ease.
This is a huge development in the strive for autonomous vehicles, a dream we saw taking shape at UMTRI. We now see that autonomous vehicles can handle the stresses of city driving, and impressively. While the infrastructure and scale is not ready to support an entire industry, Google has certainly made a huge step into the future.
It is not entirely certain what the future holds for Google’s autonomous vehicle. Certainly they will continue testing on the vehicles and strive to upgrade the technology, but it is hard to imagine Google continuing this. For one thing, they are not a car manufacturer, and they never will be. For something like this to continue, we are going to need to see implementation at the OEM level, which means it is not an option for Google. They could possibly sell their research and technology to an OEM, but it would be hard for an OEM in this market to shell out billions in cash to cover all the research that Google did for this technology.
Another thing that will be interesting to see is how the digital infrastructure for an industry-wide autonomous network will set up. Google could certainly take this route for their future in the industry, as the tech giant certainly has the capability. One thing is for sure; the future of autonomous vehicles is bright.
– Zac Durkin