Google, after 700,000 miles of testing, has released its first true driverless vehicle to be driven on surface streets and not highways just yet. The body they put it into was an electric buggy, I’m sure as time goes on that there will be at least a few choices of body types, but for now, we have this cute as a bug buggy.
Everything about the new test program that Google co-founder Sergey Brin revealed last week, from the design of its two-seat prototypes to the decision to test them on city streets instead of highways, points toward a personal transportation system that directly challenges the driver-centered, ownership-based business model the auto industry has relied on for a century.
“If you look at a vehicle purchase today, it’s the second largest purchase most people in America make, and it’s a resource that basically sits idle for 95 percent of the time,” Christopher Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving cars project, told reporters. “It’s kind of a poor capital investment, in some senses.”
Google’s idea of this app, is not a more accurate map or sensor to assist the driver but rather a vehicle that targets a pressing need for urban mobility without the need for a driver or driving at all. It envisions a network of self-guided, battery-powered vehicles standing ready in urban areas, able to be summoned with a tap on a smartphone and capable of taking their passengers to any destination.
Last year, Google led a $258 million investment in the on-demand taxi service through its Google Ventures capital arm.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick acknowledged the connection at a conference last week in California. “When there’s no other dude in the car,” the blog TechCrunch quoted him as saying, in reference to the driver, “the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.”