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Google’s ‘driverless car’ tests: Cool, but not everyone on board

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Google’s tests in California of cars that drive themselves are awfully cool, but have some questioning how the company is being steered.

Google Car

Software license and registration, please. (Business Insider)

The six specially equipped Toyota Priuses and one Audi TT have logged more than 140,000 miles from San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street to Hollywood Boulevard. They use Google’s map technology as well as “video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to ‘see’ other traffic.” (All the vehicles have an engineer in the driver’s seat who can take over control at any time).

Business Insider editor Henry Blodget (remember him from the tech boom?) notes the company could face serious legal liability if one of these runs somebody over. He also questions the business purpose.

Why is Google developing this technology? Why is Google spending the $10+ million of shareholder money per year the project consumes (15 engineers, plus drivers, plus the cars). Isn’t there something closer to its core business that Google could spend this money on?

In a New York Times interview, a Google official said there’s no business plan for the vehicles yet.

Google is hardly alone in this effort. General Motors has been developing driverless cars for some time, but wasn’t expected to begin road tests until 2015. Having been beaten to the highway by a company in a different industry, it will be interesting to see if GM accelerates its process.

If the technology becomes fully operational, it could mark a return to a benefit of an old-fashioned method of transportation. During the 1918 flu epidemic, novelist John O’Hara wrote, exhausted country doctors making house calls resisted making the switch from horse-and-carriage to Model T, simply because they needed sleep and knew Old Betsy could find the way home.

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Vlae Kershner

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