But Tuesday’s news probably will speed up development of self-driving cars at many of the largest automakers. These companies probably are working on their own software. But smaller brands like Subaru or Jaguar/Land Rover could look to license Google’s software for their vehicles.
Google’s plan to work on purely autonomous vehicles also turns the car from a product to a service. Self-driving cars could mean transportation for potentially billions of people who are unable to drive because of age, disability or income, Juliussen said. This change in philosophy, from a company of Google’s stature, could ripple through the auto industry, he said.
In addition to potential partnerships with automakers, Google’s self-driving cars could spark micro-loan programs in cities similar to bike-share programs. Users could subscribe for a monthly fee, and take the cars when they needed them for short trips around town.
“Recently we’ve seen an explosion in connected car technology and a growing interest in autonomous driving,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at website Kelley Blue Book. “Google’s intention to begin building cars is the next logical step in the evolution of personal transportation.”
That evolution may happen faster than people think. Many automakers predict they will have fully autonomous cars on the road by 2020. By 2025, as many as 230,000 of these self-drivers could be sold each year around the world, and that number could swell to 11.8 million a decade later, according to a study released this year by Juliussen and IHS Automotive.
As self-driving cars become more common, accident rates are expected to plunge to near zero, since a vast majority of today’s wrecks are caused by human error, the study predicted.
Yet two key obstacles stand in the way of autonomous cars: cost and legislation.
Truly autonomous cars could cost $7,000 to $10,000 more than their manual counterparts when they hit the market in 2020, and probably will be available only as luxury models to begin with.
And U.S. laws have a lot of catching up to do. Currently only four states allow autonomous vehicles on public roads: California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida. Those that do require that a licensed, sober driver be in the driver’s seat at all times, ready and willing to assume control of the vehicle.
Google’s own car hopes to help the laws catch up to the technology.
“Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking,” Google’s blog said. “Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.”
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