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Google Self-Driving Cars Travel to Austin, Texas

Written by on July 8, 2015

Google’s self-driving car is taking a trip to Austin, Texas to get more on-road experience. As Google grows more confident of the real-world capabilities of its autonomous vehicles, Google has chosen Austin’s roads to get more driving experience into the AI algorithms that drive the car.

One of the reasons for choosing Austin is also because it has Google’s Fiber services. These Lexus cars have two safety drivers on board to keep an eye on things. The safety drivers fill in whatever local data is missing from the Google Street View maps and also guide when unexpected traffic conditions arise. Driving while surrounded by other non-autonomously driven cars means Google’s logic and AI brain is likely to get confused from time to time by the inexplicable behavior of the human brains behind all those other cars.

Self-driving cars are an arena where Google is ahead of the competition and competition is coming from all quarters — from existing automakers to new automakers and automobile parts companies as well as, possibly, Apple.

The Apple-Google battle is so far confined to arenas such as smartphone operating systems where Google’s Android has the larger marketshare while Apple’s iPhones powered by iOS mint tonnes of money for Apple. Google’s competitors include Mercedes, Volkswagen, General Motors and Tesla Motors as well as Delphi.

Above all, Apple has been rumored to be researching cars in a top secret research facility close to their Cupertino, California headquarters. An Apple entry into the multi-trillion dollar automobile business would make things interesting for all. Apple is known for both sleek hardware and user-friendly UI/software. An Apple car could marry these two areas of expertise of Apple.

But the car business won’t be a cake walk for Apple. Elon Musk’s venture, Tesla Motors, is doing well so far with its high-end $100,000 Model S but the real test for his battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs) will come when he launches the mass-market Model 3 which will happen in 2017 or 2018.

Google’s approach to autonomous cars is simple and similar to its approach to smartphone OS — it’s interested in developing the best software using cutting edge technology and its unparalleled expertise in AI and Big Data and then selling that software to car makers. Google is not interested in manufacturing cars but Apple is though it’s not yet certain if Apple will actually take the plunge.

So far, Google’s self-driving cars have been making most of the headlines though Elon Musk’s declarations that Tesla cars already have autonomous driving capabilities made news too recently. Google’s self-driving cars have also gotten into a couple of crashes or crash-like situations but they are attributable to human errors committed by drivers of other, non-autonomously driven cars on the road.

Detailed analysis of those incidents showed that Google’s self-driving cars were not to blame. Some studies show that if all cars were to go the autonomous route, that might result in less pollution of up to 90%. With that kind of likely benefit, self-driving cars may become a reality sooner rather than later. Hopefully, real world data will be able to overcome our irrational fears of ‘robots.’ Self-driving cars will lead to better traffic management and take away a major source of hassle for harried commuters in large, traffic-congested cities like Los Angeles.

And once self-driving cars prove their mettle in one city, they’ll probably get permission to ply in other cities fairly soon. And in a decade or so from then, all cars may well become compulsorily self-driven — just as wearing seat belts is legally mandated or just as all cars have airbags and other safety measures built into them.