Driverless cars: Google is miles ahead of its rivals in the race for autonomous motoring

Driverless cars: Google is miles ahead of its rivals in the race for autonomous motoring

May 31st 2014 | From the print edition

TO GOOGLE is now in broad usage as a verb for retrieving information from the internet. If the tech giant has its way, “I Googled” will become a standard reply to the question, “How did you get here?” On May 28th Google said it would build 100 prototype driverless cars devoid of pedals, steering wheel or controls save an on/off switch. It is the next stage in its apparent quest to be as ubiquitous on the road as on computer screens.

People have dreamed about driverless motoring since at least the 1930s, but only in recent years have carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo given the matter more thought, kitting out test cars with the sensors and sophisticated software required to negotiate busy roads. Google has roared ahead by designing a driverless car from the ground up.

But bringing autonomous motoring to the world is proving harder than Google had envisaged. It once promised it by 2017. Now it does not see production models coming out before 2020. The technology is far advanced, but needs shrinking in size and cost—Google’s current test cars, retrofitted Toyota and Lexus models, are said to be packed with $80,000-worth of equipment.

Google’s latest efforts may have as much to do with convincing the public and lawmakers as refining the technology. The firm stresses the safety advantages of computers being more likely than humans to avoid accidents. The cars will have a top speed of just 25mph and a front end made of soft foam to cushion unwary pedestrians. The benefits could indeed be huge. Driving time could be given over to working, snoozing or browsing the web. Rather than suffer all the costs of owning a car, some people may prefer to summon a rented one on their smartphones whenever they need it. However, the issue of liability in the event of a driverless car crashing has yet to be resolved.

Turning cars into commodities may not be good news for traditional carmakers. But reinventing motoring as a service fits neatly with Google’s plans to become as big in hardware as in software. And unlike car firms, which talk vaguely of becoming “mobility providers”, Google has pots of cash to make that a reality and no worries about disrupting its current business. Google admits it still has “lots of work to do”. But one day Googling to the shops may be a common activity.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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