- Google set up its own auto company and is now considering making and selling self-driving cars itself.
- Google's self-driving cars will be built around advanced technologies with very simple user interfaces.
- 25-year car industry veteran John Krafcik has been chosen as new Google car project CEO.
- Self-driving cars as a service, on demand, would be a disruptive and game-changing solution, and boost Google's stock as a result.
Speaking at the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, Sarah Hunter, head of public policy for Google X Lab, said that Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) will produce a few hundreds low-speed, two-seater electric cars, by the end of 2015, The Guardian reports. "We’re making them to enable our team to learn how to actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up," she said.
Google is exploring collaborations with major car manufacturers to jointly develop driverless cars but has also quietly set up its own auto company, Google Auto LLC, according to documents obtained by The Guardian in August. Hunter confirmed that Google is now considering making and selling self-driving cars itself.
“A model where we manufacture cars for sale will require the same sort of electric vehicle charging that exists today,” said Hunter. “Our prototype vehicles are fully electric. That’s not to say the eventual vehicle we mass manufacture won’t be a hybrid.”
Google has built an impressive Internet empire by deploying advanced technologies with very simple user interfaces, and it appears that Google's new initiatives in the physical world, including Google's car, will be informed by the same design philosophy. "All [the car] has is a 'go' button, a 'please slow down and stop' button and a 'stop pretty quickly' button,” she said. "The intention is that the passenger gets in the vehicle, says into microphone, take me to Safeway, and the car does the entire journey." Google's cars will be powered by sophisticated sensors, mapping and navigation technologies, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), but all that will be transparent to the user.
"We haven’t decided yet how we’re going to bring this to market," said Hunter. "Right now, our engineers are trying to [figure out] how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once we figure that out, we’ll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that we manufacture at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that we own and operate as a service? It’s very difficult at this stage to understand what actually is going to be the human social need for the vehicles. Once we’ve built the car, we can figure that out."
Google isn't the only company developing self-driving cars - Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and Uber are aggresive competitors - but it's the leader at this moment and the only company with a publicly announced working prototype. The hint that Google might choose to operate its self-driving cars as a service is especially interesting and points to future cities where most people don't own private cars, but use self-driving cars on demand. In this scenario, which could begin to materialize as early as in the next decade, people would just call a self-driving car - perhaps operated by Google - with an app, and the car would come and pick them up in a few minutes.
Google self-driving car project has a new CEO, re/code reports: John Krafcik, a 25-year car industry veteran who previously led Hyundai’s business in the US. Current project leader Chris Urmson will be the technical director of the project under Krafcik.
"This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars," said Krafcik. "This technology can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today. I can’t wait to get started."
Other companies are betting on the potential of self-driving cars to reduce accidents and save lives. Recently Toyota (NYSE:TM) announced that it will be investing approximately $50 million over the next 5 years to establish joint Artificial Intelligence (AI) research centers at MIT and Stanford, focused on autonomous driving and AI-assisted driving for enhanced safety.
The self-driving car project is part of Google X Lab, a stealth unit dedicated to making major technological advancements and developing "science fiction-sounding solutions."
"The project is not becoming an Alphabet company at this stage, though it’s certainly a good candidate to become one at some point in the future," a Google spokesperson said. Google recently announced a new holding company Alphabet Inc as the parent company of Google Inc. and other Google's companies and initiatives to oversee their operations. In particular, some of the initiatives of Google X Lab are expected to become independent companies under Alphabet when they reach maturity.
That's likely to soon be the case for the self-driving car project, which could improve road safety, the environment, and quality of life in cities. Self-driving cars as a service, on demand, would be a disruptive and game-changing solution, and boost Google's stock as a result.