24 March 2016

IEEE Spectrum: “Google Self-Driving Car Will Be Ready Soon for Some, in Decades for Others”

But last week in a speech at Austin’s South-by-Southwest, Urmson for the first time told a different story about both the delivery date and capabilities of its first self-driving cars.

Not only might it take much longer to arrive than the company has ever indicated—as long as 30 years, said Urmson—but the early commercial versions might well be limited to certain geographies and weather conditions. Self-driving cars are much easier to engineer for sunny weather and wide-open roads, and Urmson suggested the cars might be sold for those markets first.

Urmson put it this way in his speech. How quickly can we get this into people’s hands? If you read the papers, you see maybe it’s three years, maybe it’s thirty years. And I am here to tell you that honestly, it’s a bit of both.

Lee Gomes

A rather curious statement from the project’s director Chris Urmson. There are certainly a lot of complicated challenges in building an autonomous car, but a gradual release to market doesn’t make much sense to me, especially segmented by such random factors as regional weather patterns. How would this work while it’s raining; should people have a regular car as backup for bad weather? What happens if you start on a trip and get caught in a storm; does the car stop driving “for your own safety” and lets you stranded in the middle of nowhere? And more to the point, who would buy a self-driving model with such obvious flaws? The only solution I see is a vehicle that receives constant updates for the driver AI and is heavily subsidized by Google in the first stages, allowing people to use them as secondary car without much financial commitment, while Google collects more data to improve reliability.

Urmson shares his stories from the front lines of building the world’s first fully self-driving cars.

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