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Google Looks to Detroit to Team on Self-driving Cars

Google plans to move ahead with its self-driving car technology and hopes to get a hand from the folks in Detroit.

Anthony Levandowski, head of Google's self-driving car project, told an audience at the Society of Automotive Engineers conference last week that the company is looking for partners to help it get autonomous cars on the road within the next decade, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

"We're talking to every car company to see what their level of excitement is," Levandowski said.

While noting that the company still needs to do "millions of miles" of testing, he said the technology could be ready well before 2022. "If not, shame on us as engineers," he added.

A Google spokesman told Computerworld last week that the company is reaching out to many auto companies but keeping its options open. (See also "Cadillac Self-Driving Cars: Out By 2015?").

"We're talking with lots of auto companies about a variety of topics, but we haven't decided how we may make our technology available to consumers," he said. "As Anthony Levandowski said yesterday in Detroit, 'all options are open.' "

Ever since Google first noted in the fall of 2010 that engineers at the search giant were trying to create an autonomous vehicle that could be widely sold, industry analysts have wondered how a self-driving car would fit into the Internet company's business strategy.

It could be technology for technology's sake, noted Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "It's a very long shot for ultimate business relevance," he said. "But there's no reason an investor with lots of cash, which is what Google is, shouldn't have some long shots in its portfolio."

A visionary might look ahead 10 years and imagine people driven around by their cars, while they spend their time searching Google for nearby Thai restaurants or gas stations, instead of driving on busy highways, he said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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