Google's Car Enters the Human Phase

I remember my first car show, I was eight and the women in cocktail dresses were giants with heavy machines in my eyes.  The dream of getting behind the wheel of a hot Corvette was more than fantasy, it was my goal.  Growing up in Manhattan, we never drove cars and all I wanted to do was drive so I had to go to Jersey to get my license (ironic since they are the worst drivers). Now, the prospect of giving up the wheel to a machine and riding shotgun makes me a little queazy, but should it?

Google aims to revolutionize how we interact with the world, imagine how ground breaking it is for blind and paraplegic people to now be mobile and independent.  The video above shows a blind man who has lost 95% of his vision running errands, courtesy of Page & Brin. Expects anticipate the Google may be sitting on a $2 trillion a year business with its robotic cars, in the same way that Henry Ford made us give up our buggy whips, Page & Brin will move our society to the backseat.

According to Google’s claims, their care as described by their lead developer, Sebastian Thrun, will:

  1. Reduce traffic accidents by 90%.
  2. Reduce wasted commute time and energy by 90%.
  3. Reduce the number of cars by 90%.

In an article, I read preparing for this post, there were 5.5 million accidents in 2009s.   These accidents killed 33,808 people and injured more than 2.2 million others, 240,000 of whom had to be hospitalized. “Adding up all costs related to accidents—including medical costs, property damage, loss of productivity, legal costs, travel delays and pain and lost quality of life—the American Automobile Association studied crash data in the 99 largest U.S. urban areas and estimated the total costs to be $299.5 billion. Adjusting those numbers to cover the entire country suggests annual costs of about $450 billion.” Now put that in perspective of Google’s claim, it will save 30,000 lives each year, prevent 2 million injuries and save the US close to $400 billion in accident related expense.  BIG VALUE PROPOSITION!

The appeal does not end in the ER, it can also increase the energy efficiency by offering shared vehicles and efficient modes of transport.  According to the research by by Lawrence Burns and William Jordon at Columbia University’s Earth Institute Program on Sustainable Mobility showed the dramatic cost savings potential.  “Their analysis found that a shared, driverless fleet could provide far better mobility experiences than personally owned vehicles at far radically lower cost.  For medium-sized cities like Ann Arbor, MI, the cost per trip-mile could be reduced by 80% when compared to personally own vehicles driven about 10,000 miles per year — without even factoring in parking and the opportunity cost of driving time.  Their analysis showed similar cost savings potential for suburban and high-density urban scenarios as well.”

This means Zip Car will become the model of the future with the everyone entitled to a personal chauffeur names HAL or C3PO.  In a world of yellow cabs with drivers that don’t know how to drive,  communicate and often use deodorant, this is a welcomed milestone.

Thank you to my brother, David for sharing with me the Forbes article on Google.

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