For the last several years, Google has been investing heavily in new technologies outside the realm of internet search. Housed under the Google X moniker, these projects are dedicated to making major technological advancements and include Google Self-Driving Cars, amongst others. Google’s autonomous car efforts started as an interplay of software and hardware by combining Google Maps with sensors attached to existing vehicles like Toyotas, Audis and Lexuses. However, last Tuesday Google announced their own self-driving car prototype, which bears no recognizable name plate and is designed in-house by the search giant. What does this mean for the future of the company and the industry as a whole?
The Google Car
Back in 2004, the U.S. Department of Defense started a competition for the advancement of vehicle automation and autonomous vehicles, The DARPA Grand Challenge. In short, the competition consisted of American research teams that designed and developed self-driving vehicles and in 2005, Stanford Team won the first place. Sebastian Thrun, then head of the Stanford team, founded Goolge’s special projects division, Google X. Thurn now leads the development of their driverless car initiative, which has started producing their own vehicles.
According to their official blog, Google started the project to “prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time, and reduce carbon emissions,” and they seem to be on the right path. Their newly introduced prototype is a small, cartoonish looking vehicle, which front resembles a human face and lacks a steering wheel, pedals and mirrors. The absence of these now seemingly obsolete artifacts, points out to Google’s own admission that today’s cars are built around a driver, not a rider. Will this be a trend for others to follow? You bet.
By designing and producing their own vehicles, Google is exploring design elements that will help them achieve their goals. The removal of driver-centric parts is considerably decreasing the weight of the car, translating into better fuel efficiency. Google’s own design has also allowed them to customize the controls of the car, which according to the company consist of two buttons (go and emergency) and a GPS screen.
Aesthetically, Google’s self-driving car seems approachable and welcoming. Its curved lines and small size project a friendly face, as if trying to disguise the fear and uncertainty associated with self-operated machines.
Now that the technology is ready, the biggest challenge ahead will be to convince people that these cars are actually safe.
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