Google in the driver's seat

 Driverless cars are cars without a driver, which is what Google and Uber are pursuing.

Google in the driver's seat
Photo credit: AFP Relaxnews

Washington: New research suggests that Google's unrivaled access to complementary technologies could mean it will be offering consumers access to driverless taxis before a traditional carmaker can get its first autonomous car in a dealership.

During his media roundtable discussion at the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan head Carlos Ghosn was very careful to make a clear distinction between autonomous driving aids and the concept of self-driving cars.

"Driverless cars are cars without a driver, which is what Google and Uber are pursuing," he said. "Our objective for autonomous drive is not to take you out of the car. Our objective is to keep you in the car and empower you."

Al traditional automakers agree on this point. Technology should not cancel out driver involvement. When the car's stuck in traffic, it takes over. When the car's on a wonderful stretch of road, the driver takes the wheel again.

"If you want to drive, you drive, if you don't, you don't," said Ghosn.

But while carmakers discuss the finer points and governments are yet to reach a consensus regarding the legislation needed to let cars drive themselves in public, according to IHS Automotive, Google is already streets ahead in the race to make autonomous cars a reality.

"No other company has as much relevant technology to advance autonomous driving software," said Egil Juliussen, PhD., senior research director at IHS Automotive.

The search giant is a leader in mapping, machine learning and artificial intelligence and has unrivaled access to other innovations, too.

"Google is in a unique position to leverage adjacent technologies for developing self-driving car software," Juliussen said, "And its strategy and goal is to provide the software and map infrastructure to allow mobility services to anyone."

This progress is why Toyota is investing $1 billion in Artificial Intelligence -- in order to make up lost ground. But, claims IHS, Google's progress in this field along with efforts from firms such as Uber is already far enough advanced that we could see the car becoming an autonomous pay-as-you-go service long before a traditional carmaker rolls out a fully autonomous production vehicle of its own.

Nissan, Toyota, Volvo, Honda and Audi have all set themselves a deadline of 2020 for delivering their first production cars with next-generation autonomous aids. However, IHS forecasts that 'Car as a Service' (CaaS) fleets will be an app-controlled reality before 2025.

IHS forecasts that by 2035, 10% of new cars on sale around the world will be fully autonomous. However, it also notes that the rate at which breakthroughs are being made means that this estimate could be very conservative.

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