The founders of Google and one of their autonomous Toyota Prius hybridsEnlarge Photo
For years, we've reported on Google's development of self-driving cars -- or more accurately, on Google's development of self-driving car technology.
Until recently, many folks assumed that Google would only create the software for autonomous vehicles, then license that software to car companies, which would install the software on their own vehicles. That assumption was based on the lessons that Google seems to have learned through Android -- namely, that making hardware is a great way to lose money.
The end result of Google's efforts would be cars like the ones we've already seen, in which Google's autonomous vehicle technology has been installed on models like the Toyota Prius. Automakers around the world would be able to sell a "Google Package" (or whatever clever name they came up with) to eager autonomous car fans.
But that scenario may play out as expected. According to our colleagues at Motor Authority, Google is preparing to launch its very own car company.
The news comes by way of Amir Efrati, writing at JessicaLessin.com. Efrati cites "people familiar with the matter", who say that Google has tried to work with major automakers to incorporate its autonomous technology, but those efforts haven't paid off.
As a result, Google is now speaking with with a range of manufacturers, in the hopes of building a car to its own specifications. This is in line with news reports that surfaced last week in which parts supplier Continental revealed that it has been working with Google and IBM to launch self-driving cars. Full details about that collaboration should be announced next month at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
THE NITTY, THE GRITTY
If Google does shift into the autonomous car business, the question remains: what's it going to do with those vehicles?
Is it going to sell directly to consumers? That's a possibility. Perhaps the company has been emboldened by the growing success of Tesla, which shows that tech-hungry Americans are eager for new transportation options.
But will drivers really want to give up driving? According to Efrati, car companies are eager to offer autonomous safety features such as lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and even "road train" convoy technology, like the kind Volvo has been perfecting with its SARTRE system. But to relinquish complete control of the vehicle to a computer? Not so much.
Efrati thinks Google might have its eyes set on taxi service -- something that's been discussed quite a bit since Google scored its first autonomous car license plate in Nevada. And for good reason: motoring down scenic byways is one thing, but shuttling tipsy gamblers up and down the Las Vegas Strip? That seems like a prime target for automation.
Can Google go it alone? Will the mistakes it's learned from Android help it conquer the mainstream auto market? Or should Google focus on a particular niche of consumers, which ultimately helped Tesla gain traction among a broader group of shoppers? Sound off in the comments below.