The concept of driverless vehicles is even more complicated for companies such as Mercedes and BMW which sell cars on the basis that people will love the experience of driving them. As Aeberhard suggests, BMW has put a great deal of its design effort into making hands-free feel like a natural driving experience. It is driving to work in traffic. Even so, we want it to feel as it should feel if they were driving it themselves.
Or like maybe a chauffeur is driving. A very comfortable do-not-disturb type of driving. The experience could hardly have been more of a contrast. Google is attempting autonomy in city driving, a challenge, as Aeberhard acknowledges, at a different order of magnitude from what BMW and most of the rest are aiming for.
Never shy of hubris, Google wants not only to reinvent the car but to replace the whole idea of driving. In some ways this is primarily a mapping challenge. The sensors themselves are getting better. The better the sensors get, the less you need the map. Google , which of course loves its cartography skills, is trying something altogether more sophisticated.
Its system, aiming at full autonomy, not only has to take account of traffic but of every eventuality on a city road. Dmitri Dolgov is the systems engineer responsible for imagining and interpreting this landscape: Or if a car in front is about to make a U-turn as opposed to a normal turn, the system can now recognise slight changes in behaviour.
We do have to worry about the likelihood of people opening doors from parked cars. We can predict when someone is going to run a red light. When cyclists do it. They spend days tossing beach balls in front of the prototype, or letting scooters loose, and seeing what happens. Some intuitive behaviour is still well beyond it. At four-way junctions, which in American suburban streets rely on eye contact between drivers and a system of edging forward, the car can become paralysed.
In general — in the somewhat jerky drive I enjoyed — it is exceedingly cautious, in a driving culture where excessive caution creates its own difficulties. The accidents the Google car has had have almost all been when it has been rear-ended by other vehicles when it was following the letter of highway law perhaps too closely, or stopping too abruptly.
It behaves a little like a nervy learner driver. I asked a couple of the biggest brains at Mountain View what would happen if kids realised that a fun game would be strolling out into the road in front of Google cars, which of course have no choice but to stop in their tracks.
Certainly that would seem to be the sceptical message of the attitude survey in Tech Monthly. The wariness displayed about the new technology is the kind of understanding that the marketing people at BMW — and at Toyota and Mercedes and Volvo and the rest — know only too well.
Too much revolution alienates their customers. It remains to be seen if Apple , which is reportedly also building a self-driving car and has been scouting for secure locations in the San Francisco Bay area to test it, will attempt something equally ambitious, but it would be a surprise if it did not. And as such there is a stark divergence between what the tech giants believe is possible with autonomy and what traditional car-makers think can be achieved.
Much of this comes down to a schism over understanding how people adopt the new, new thing. Google has, as a core belief, the messianic attitude that human behaviour is redeemable by the universal application of its technology.
In the US alone 33, people are killed, the equivalent of a falling out of the sky five days a week. Traffic is getting worse. Doing basic maths, the average commute is 50 minutes a day. People and their errors need eventually to be removed from making bad choices behind steering wheels. Cars should be another element of our lives that rely on the data. Should there be age restrictions on autonomous cars? His reasoning is that Google has taken a step that BMW, for example, has not yet attempted.
They have put real people — that is to say, general Google employees rather than people intimately involved in the driverless project — behind the wheel of their cars. In , they gave people driver-assisted cars — with a capability similar to the BMW 5 Series prototype - to use in this way, let them go out on the public road and drive home. One woman said that when she got home, she ran every evening and unlike before — when she had been tired from the commute — she cooked every day.
We had another guy who drives a Porsche normally. To begin with he thought the self-driving idea was stupid, he loves driving, but after a few days he came back and said: Most of my driving sucks.