After being fairly secretive about its autonomous car project, Google has revealed two possible directions in the last few weeks: it may use the technology for public shuttles, and it wants to work with an established auto company to bring the car into production.
Google’s autonomous cars – which are currently nameless – have already traveled more than 700,000 miles without the aid of a driver (though a test driver was always on hand). Many of these miles have been logged on the streets of Mountain View, Calif., where Google’s headquarters are located.
Using Google’s mapping technology and camera, the self-driving cars helped create detailed charts of the city. The cars could then be programmed to automatically drive to any location in Mountain View.
One of the benefits from these real-world drives includes testing how the car will handle unexpected complications. Chris Urmson, director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, said obstacles included trash cans, piles of leaves and one memorable incident including a duck and woman.
“We would not have had a woman in a wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom as a test case,” said Urmson. “Fortunately, the vehicle did fine.”
Urmson is now looking ahead to the project’s next stage. This may include tapping into what was learned in Mountain View to offer autonomous cars as shuttles for employees on Google’s campus or perhaps even as public transportation.
“We don’t know whether it would be Mountain View or somewhere else,” said Urmson. “But some kind of test like that would make an awful lot of sense.”
If Google can develop an autonomous shuttle that lets customers schedule a ride from their smartphone, the company could end up with a winning business model, say experts.
Google’s overall plan for its autonomous technology is still in development, according to Urmson. A few absolute goals have been set, howver, including the company’s priority to build a car that requires no input from the driver at all.
Urmson said Google is also searching to connect with other companies in the auto industry, with the goal of manufacturing a production model.
“We don’t particularly want to become a car maker,” Urmson told The Wall Street Journal. “We are talking [with] and looking for partners.”
To date, no collaborations have been announced.