It’s been no secret that Google wants to disrupt transportation with their self-driving car. The next iteration of this technology, the driverless car that does not even have a steering wheel, stands to revolutionize how we travel.
The company has begun building a fleet of 100 experimental electric-powered vehicles that will dispense with all the standard controls found in modern automobiles. The two-seat vehicle looks a bit like the ultracompact Fiat 500 or the Mercedes-Benz Smart car if you take out the steering wheel, gas pedal, brake and gear shift. The only things the driver controls is a red “e-stop” button for panic stops and a separate start button.
Think about a fleet of Uber-powered driverless cars. You could call one, it will pick you up, and then drop you off wherever you want to go. When you’re done, another car can take you home. The need to actually own a car becomes much, much less important.
The car would be summoned with a smartphone application. It would pick up a passenger and automatically drive to a destination selected on a smartphone app without any human intervention.
If Taxi drivers hate Uber, they should fear this driverless car. It will quickly relegate them to the land of horse-and-buggy.
Last year, Lawrence D. Burns, former vice president for research and development at General Motors and now a Google consultant, led a study at the Earth Institute at Columbia University on transforming personal mobility.
The researchers found that Manhattan’s 13,000 taxis made 470,000 trips a day. Their average speed was 10 to 11 m.p.h., carrying an average of 1.4 passengers per trip with an average wait time of five minutes.
In comparison, the report said, it is possible for a futuristic robot fleet of 9,000 shared automated vehicles hailed by smartphone to match that capacity with a wait time of less than one minute. Assuming a 15 percent profit, the current cost of taxi service would be about $4 per trip mile, while in contrast, it was estimated, a Manhattan-based driverless vehicle fleet would cost about 50 cents per mile.
The only thing standing in the way would be the same cartel they use to fight Uber today.
Even moreso, this technology should serve as a note of caution for proponents of expensive and time-consuming high-speed rail.
“Obviously it will take time, a long time, but I think it has a lot of potential,” he said. “Self-driving cars have the potential to drive in trains much closer together and, in theory, in the future at much higher speeds.
“There is nothing to say that once you demonstrate the safety, why can’t you go 100 miles per hour?”
If a series of these small, fast, autonomous cars can drive in dedicated lanes, people can easily travel between cities without much effort. Think of Minority Report: