Technology for robotic cars comes into own company
The Google parent Alphabet brings the development of technology for self-driving cars into an independent subsidiary under its corporate umbrella. Her future boss Jon Krafcik announced her name will be Waymo. “We are a company that deals with technology for autonomous driving,” he emphasized. Even before, Google managers kept repeating that they don’t want to become a car manufacturer themselves, but that they are looking for deals with established manufacturers. As early as 2009, Google put the first cars with technology for autonomous driving on the road. Since then, over 3.2 million kilometers have been covered, said Krafcik. Initially, they were converted Toyota vehiclesand Lexus, meanwhile Google is also testing cars from its own development. In one of the small electric two-seaters, a blind man was transported to Austin, Texas in October 2015 without an additional person on board. According to Google, it was the world’s first trip of its kind where the computer was completely on its own.
At the same time, according to a media report, the development of one’s own self-driving Google car without a steering wheel and pedals is not to be further advanced for the time being. Instead, the Silicon Valley industry service “The Information” wrote on Tuesday that there should be more cooperation with automakers for more traditional vehicles.
This gives rise to hopes of launching a commercial driver service with self-driving cars as early as the end of 2017, it said, citing informed people. The schedule depends on the development of the prototype with Fiat Chrysler . According to earlier announcements, 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans will initially be converted to accommodate Google’s robotic car technology in the vehicles.
There are still many hurdles for self-driving cars
Autopilots are standard on aircraft. In ships, too, the computer often takes the helm, at least outside the ports. In the end, autonomous driving is also about an autopilot that controls the vehicle. But car traffic is complex. The industrial prototypes can already be on the highway without major problems and without any intervention by the driver. It gets more difficult in city traffic. However, semi-automatic functions are now part of everyday life. Cruise control, parking aids, traffic jam assistants or distance controls – many functions already relieve the driver. Combines, for example, have long been able to drive independently across the field.
One of the most important arguments is security. Most accidents are caused by driving errors. High up in the statistics: too high speed, too little distance or turning errors. Automatically controlled cars would minimize such errors. Because a computer does not know how to take risks, enjoy speed and overconfidence. He brakes when the distance is too short and does not take other people’s right of way out of carelessness.
The development is quite advanced. BMW, for example, has been testing automatically driving cars for years, including on German motorways. The vehicles can also overtake independently. However, manufacturers must obtain approval for such tests from authorities. Audi recently had a car drive “autonomously” around 900 kilometers from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas for the US technology fair CES. Daimler also presented its vision for a self-driving car of the future at CES. The silver Mercedes prototype drove autonomously onto the stage after a tour through the desert and the hotel mile of the gambling city. At least for the autobahn, some manufacturers can imagine piloted driving in five to seven years.
This is where the difficulties beyond technology begin. The first hurdle is the “Vienna Convention on Road Traffic” of 1968, which is the basis for most traffic regulations. Although there are references to draft animals, there is no mention of self-driving cars. But for the fact that every car needs a driver who is ultimately responsible. It is rather unlikely that motorists will ultimately surrender responsibility and control completely. However, there are still no rules and laws. The drivers in Germany have to be trained on the prototypes that have been running on normal routes to date.
Europe’s largest insurer, Allianz, would also insure self-driving cars. However, the risk assessment would change because the risk would shift from the human error of the driver to the developer of the autopilot. However, insurers do not believe that there will be fully self-driving cars. A driver will also need a driver’s license in the future and be able to control the vehicle in an emergency or in situations where it is necessary.
Certainly also to lure customers with more and more sophisticated extras. But the possible competition from other players also plays a role. For example, the Internet company Google has been working on self-driving cars for several years.
Fiat Chrysler is the only known major auto company to consider using Google technology in its robotic cars. Otherwise the industry preferred to develop its own solutions. Large manufacturers are working on it themselves, and the suppliers Delphi and MobilEye have teamed up to sell the manufacturers a cheap technology for it. Also Volvo and the supplier Autolivwant to offer their developments to others. Google had introduced the small electric two-seater from its own development in 2014. It was said that in the future, the cars should be controlled completely by the computer and get along without a steering wheel or pedals. The prototypes that are currently on the road in Google’s hometown of Mountain View and in Austin, Texas, still have both, among other things because the traffic regulations require it. In industry circles it was said that the Internet group had an offer from the industry to build vehicles according to the concept.
Krafcik, a former top manager at the South Korean car maker Hyundai , had last led the project. Outsourcing to a separate company had been expected for some time. Long-time head of development Chris Urmson, who left the project in the summer, wanted to continue working on his own cars, wrote “The Information”. According to information from the tech blog “Recode”, Urmson now wants to set up his own start-up for robot car software.