Maybe you missed it, but Google officially became a car company last week.
The first prototypes of its adorable and potentially groundbreaking self-driving vehicle started rolling off the the assembly line.
Over the next few years, we're likely to see them tooling around California's roads as Google strives to make fully autonomous cars a reality.
For the most part, the traditional auto industry sees the Google self-driving project as a Very Interesting Idea.
And why not? If Google can develop a suite of software applications that will improve safety and enable people in cars to do things other that focus on driving 100% of the time, the process will yield technologies that can be installed in Buicks and Toyotas and BMWs.
And besides, automakers are pursuing their own self-driving tech.
But Google has really upped the ante by building a whole new platform to integrate and advance its self-driving concepts. The Google Car looks like the product of a technology company. Its entire physical premise is, fundamentally, No Driver Required. This is utterly new: cars have always been build around the driver.
But Google has built its car around computer programming.
Bottom line: the traditional auto industry should be afraid — very afraid. Here's why:
1. The Google Car Is A Software Platform
The modern automobile is in many ways a rolling computer. But its legacy means that it's also a rolling engine and a large piece of industrial design that needs to protect 2-7 people and achieve speeds of over 100 mph, to be able to interact with other cars and the existing transportation infrastructure. As a result, cars can be updated in major ways only every 4-5 years. Consumer products and software, by contrast, can be updated yearly, monthly, weekly — and even daily! Google is constantly updating its applications, invisibly. So the Google Car will never be out of date, in terms of its brain.
2. The Google Car Doesn't Need To Go Fast
The Googlemobile isn't designed to operate at high speeds — its tops out at 25 mph — which allows for a simple design. One assumes that as the technology advances, the car will go faster, need to be bigger, and so on. But actually, the Google model of autonomous vehicles predicts a relatively low-speed world of mobility. The Moon Shot is the self-driving artificially intelligence to be able to deal with complex urban environments, where cars generally poke along at 25-50 mph. But there's no good reason for cars to be capable of highway speeds well in excess of speed limits. If self-driving cars could maintain steady highways speeds of around 60 mph and avoid traffic snarls, they might be able to improve travel times.
3. The Google Car Is Uncomplicated
It's a modest electric vehicle. Ultimately, it will have no controls for a driver. Electric motors are simple and require little maintenance. The Google Car won't need big brakes. It's designed for a world in which people don't own their cars, so what maintenance it does require can be carried out at central locations. If a component fails on the road, mechanics will probably be able to fix things quickly and easily. The cars we have now are extremely reliable compared to autos of the past, but a minor problem can still take one off the road for days.
A simple, slow software platform built by a Silicon Valley technology company.
It should have the world's auto execs sweating with fear.
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