Google Drives Past Auto Manufacturers in Vehicle Automation

Most major automakers are developing more automated driving systems. Some of the features, such as cruise control that adjusts to the speeds of surrounding cars, blind spot radar and other collision avoidance systems, are already available. The push to deliver automated cars reflects the differences of automakers and Silicon Valley tech companies. Established car companies typically take a more incremental tactic than Silicon Valley, taking into account decades of manufacturing experience.

Engineers at Google take a more direct approach. For example, a team has created 20 test Audis with radar, laser sensors, cameras and computers that give the vehicle self-driving capabilities.

Google’s view is that drivers should be able to tell their cars where to go, and the car should drive to the destination without further intervention. Sebastian Thrun, who established Google’s research in self driving cars, told The Wall Street Journal that under normal circumstances, automated cars drive better than humans, and that 99 percent of the technological problems have been resolved, with the remaining as the most challenging.

Google has come to the auto industry asking larger questions, breaking down the fundamental issues, such as what will the future of transportation be, says Thrun. Since Google is not a traditional carmaker, it can frame its questions away from traditional manufacturing and distribution, and emphasize advanced computer programming over traditional automotive methods.

The automotive industry does not have the luxury to only focus on conceptual cars. An automated car is still a goal of the industry, but is still decades away, says Darren Liccardo, head of the BMW Group Technology Office.

“There are a lot of intermediate steps that do provide value to the customer, and we see that in traffic jam assistance, automatic lane keeping features that work under speeds conditions, and active cruise control, which is already in production, making sure that your car follows the car in front of it at a safe distance,” notes Liccardo.