In a surprise move Saturday, Google announced that it's been secretly road testing an automated vehicle. Posted on the Google Blog as a sort of “by the way,” it really brings home the kind of clout Google can bring to bear when they choose to. It doesn’t appear to have been a particular hardship for them to grab a handful of top engineers of DARPA Challenge fame and, while the motivation for the project seems altruistic, I’m conflicted.
It’s happened before with the Google phone. That the Nexus One didn’t pan out because the carriers refused to play ball doesn’t mean it wasn’t a learning experience for Google. The Nexus One seems small time compared to the exponential costs associated with vehicle manufacture (particularly with the sensory gadgets involved), but going full out seems to be what Google is all about. To me it’s not a leap of faith that they’d come into a new market having learned from and perhaps been hardened by their last venture in that capacity.
That being the case, I do think much of what was said in the Google Blog has merit; it references a WHO study stating that 1.2 million people are killed in car accidents every year. The “highway trains” they talk about increasing drive sharing would also reduce emissions and consumption of fossil fuels.
I can see electric cars recharged by solar power with low to no emissions being used in the future as a green alternative. Automated public transit and carpooling could help to unclog our roads and highways. Best of all, maybe this kind of thing could actually cut down on vehicular accidents to a significant degree.
Who knows, maybe Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan will turn out to be what they have in mind in this case. I hope so.
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