Speaking in Vancouver today (March 17), Google’s car guy, Chris Urmson, revealed he expects driverless vehicles on roads beyond California (where they’ve been tested for years) before the end of 2019.
The speech reminded me of a May 2014 article at the Verge that put forth totally fascinating ideas about where exactly Google is headed with this project.
What Google is not going for, is a driverless car in every garage and driveway in America, the story suggested.
Just the opposite. What this technological accomplishment will actually mean, is no less than the abolition of private automobile ownership.
“What if we all sold our cars?” the Verge asked by way of paraphrasing Google X’s Sergey Brin.
“What if every time we needed a car, we unlocked our smartphones and called for one with a single tap, and as soon as it dropped us off it went off to its next job? We'd need fewer parking lots, reduce our emissions, stop driving drunk, and get in fewer accidents. Those who couldn’t or shouldn’t drive – the blind, the elderly — could still get around. This is the future Brin imagines, one with huge ramifications on everything from the environment to the economy.”
When driverless technology is integrated into a car-share service like Car2Go (already very popular among Vancouver’s younger would-be car owners), the potential benefits begin to really become apparent.
At home, why would you walk down the street to your private car’s assigned parking space when a driverless vehicle would meet you right outside your front door? Out shopping, why would you opt to deal with expensive underground parking when your driverless car would drop you off right outside your grocery store’s entrance?
Why pay for insurance, maintenance, and gasoline when you can share a driverless car that offers the expediencies described above? (Here is where we would likely see the tipping point breached on electric versus gasoline vehicles. The primary hurdle holding back electric cars is consumers’ psychological reluctance to embrace a superior but unfamiliar technology. A self-driving car will have no such hang up about transporting itself to an electric charging station instead of a depository of combustible fossil fuels.)
“It will force customers to get used to the idea of not owning a car, and the notion that it's actually more convenient doing things the Uber and Zipcar way,” the Verge article reads. “It’ll teach us to think of cars as public transportation, a service provided for us. Even if we're years away from the wide availability of the technology it's now clearer than ever that's what a 'self-driving car' really means.”
“Google’s not just trying to make cars that drive us around. It’s trying to reimagine what a car is for in the first place.”