More thoughts on Google's self-driving car

gray google car
© Google

A self-driving car much like the Google car has been discussed on TreeHugger for a few years, since I participated in a workshop at the Institute without Boundaries three years ago. I wrote at the time:

The autonomous car will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them. Urban planners and theorists have to start thinking about this or we will screw it up again.

We have covered the new google car here and here, but what are others saying?

MIT Techonology Review: People are lazy

Tom Simonite of MIT Technology Review explains why Google ditched the steering wheel: Humans were no good at taking over if something went wrong.
When people began riding in one of the vehicles, they paid close attention to what the car was doing and to activity on the road around them, which meant the hand-off between person and machine was smooth. But that interest faded to indifference over weeks and months as people became too trusting of the car’s abilities. “Humans are lazy,” says Fairfield. “People go from plausible suspicion to way overconfidence.”
More: Lazy Humans Shaped Google’s New Autonomous Car

It's Lame.

TreeHugger emeritus Alex Davies thinks it is lame and boring. I would say that he is missing the point completely, it is not trying to be a Tesla.
Google has said its self-driving cars are still at least five years from commercialization. Hopefully Google and other companies working on this will have some more creative ideas by then. They should take a hint from Tesla’s Model S, an electric car that offers terrific performance, revolutionary technology and the sex appeal to make it desirable. Put autonomous technology in a package like that, and we’re fully on board.
More: Google’s First Car: Revolutionary Tech in a Remarkably Lame Package

The Register gets it wrong as wrong can be.

Where to begin? Imagine a community of fifty people with 40 cars. In any day 30 of them use a car to go somewhere and six of them share the vehicle with one other person. That’s 24 trips and 24 vehicles on the road, which leaves 16 cars parked, either on the side of the road or in yards. Now let’s do it with driverless cars; 24 trips and 24 vehicles on the road with some left parked through not being used. It’s the same number of vehicles on the road, innit? Only it isn’t, it’ll be more – because Google’s saying blind and disabled people who can’t drive will be able to call up and use a Google car. This means more vehicles on the road. Tell me I’m wrong.
OK, You're wrong. Google's driverless car: It'll just block our roads. It's the WORST

It's not a car, it's a robot

Jalopnik realizes that this is something different.
The key thing to remember here is that what Google has made here is not a car. It’s a robot. A robot who’s primary mission is to take you from one place to another, within a very specific set of circumstances.
More: Why Google’s Goofy Little Self-Driving Car Is Almost A Design Triumph

It's a podcar

Chris Woodyard gets it too, recognizing that this is much closer to a PRT (personal rapid transit) without the rails and the dedicated guideways.
Hail, the pod car. By shaping the car like a beach ball, Google turns automotive design on its ear. Other automakers have given a pod-like look to small cars, but the most extreme rarely ever left the clay model or auto show stage.
More: Ugly? Google's self-driving nerdmobile is a pod car

Are they really still cars?

Ben Walsh at the New Republic thinks of it as a really bad car, and thinks that it will be used like a car.
Google, to use a technology cliché, has chosen the wrong platform. If the company wants to revolutionize mobility, it shouldn't waste its time with cars. They're intractably inefficient uses of energy and space, and building our communities around them has failed. ...The notion that hundreds of thousands of Google car pods will glide through cities in humming packs just inches apart is deeply naive.
Perhaps. Self-Driving Cars Are Still Cars—Which Means They Won't Improve Your Commute

It will change the world

TreeHugger emeritus Matthew Sparkes gets that this is a whole new thing.
Unlike us, driverless cars will never drive drunk and will not be able to speed, take reckless chances or race their mates away from traffic lights. They will never doze off, lose concentration or send a text message at the wheel. They will never get angry, frustrated or competitive. In short, they will be a lot, lot safer than we are.
More: Ten ways that driverless cars will change the world

It will change everything

Joe D'Allegro at Investopedia recognizes biggest changes that will come with this car, including the fact that there will be a lot less of them since they don't sit around doing nothing.
Who needs a car made with heavier-gauge steel and eight airbags (not to mention a body shop) if accidents are so rare? Who needs a parking spot close to work if your car can drive you there, park itself miles away, only to pick you up later? Who needs to buy a flight from Boston to Cleveland when you can leave in the evening, sleep much of the way, and arrive in the morning?

Indeed, Google’s goal is to increase car utilization from 5-10% to 75% or more by facilitating sharing. That means fewer cars on the road. Fewer cars period, in fact. Who needs to own a car when you can just order a shared one and it’ll drive up minutes later, ready to take you wherever you want?


More: How Google's Self-Driving Car Will Change Everything

They are sprawl-tastic

Vox begins to recognize the problem of sprawl.
Suburban sprawl could expand. Right now, there’s a serious limit to how sprawled-out a city can get — as a rule, people tend to prefer to keep their commutes under an hour. But if self-driving cars can offer quick, efficient transportation, then we could see more people spread out to the suburbs.
More: 15 ways that self-driving cars could transform our lives – Vox

The end of car ownership

From the Observer:
Google is, par excellence – and to a degree rarely seen in industry – an engineering company, and engineers dislike the untidy irrationality of real life. They look at our motorised world and see that we spend fortunes on the purchase, upkeep and operation of cars that are usually driven by a single human, spend a good deal of their time immobilised in urban congestion, and much of the rest of the time parked in streets. They see governments and local authorities driven to distraction, if not to bankruptcy, by the costs of providing roads and infrastructure to support our motoring habit. They see the mortality, environmental and health costs of human-controlled automobiles. And they think: this is nuts.
More: Will Google’s self-driving pods spell the end of the road for car ownership? | Technology | The Observer

A lot more people will have mobility.

From Forbes:
The old and infirm will be liberated by computer-driven cars. The young will be able to access personal transport without needing a license to drive. Fatal accidents and insurance costs will be slashed. In Britain, ailing rural pubs will flourish again as the fear of the breathalyser vanishes. Nobody will ever again be convicted of speeding or dangerous driving.
More: Computer-Driven Cars Promise/Threaten Radical Changes In Auto World

Why it will fail

Wishful thinking from Gizmodo, misses the point that you need only a tenth as many cars when they are shared.

The zero-emission, all-electric, Self-Driving Car also fails to address what’s probably the most pressing issue currently facing transportation in America — over crowded roads. It’s one more car, not one less. Yet again, this issue is best addressed through public transportation and removing cars from out city centers. Where there are no cars, one can’t run you over.

More: ​Why Google’s Self-Driving Car Will Fail

Tags: Google | Self-driving car | Transportation