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Controversy and intrigue fuel conversation around Google's self-driving car

Technology is constantly evolving, but it's taken off at record speed over the past few decades. Along with smartphones, tablets and even self-guiding vacuum cleaners, Google's new self-driving car is expected to hit the market in the not-so-distant future. The idea of a smart vehicle might sound like something out of a science fiction movie for some, but the technology that supports the transportation device is very real, and, Google argues, ready to be taken mainstream.

If the thought of simply getting in your car and letting its digital system drive you around intimidates you, you aren't alone. According to a ProOpinion poll, 31 percent of people will never trust a self-driving car to transport them or their families. About 19 percent believe these vehicles will be financially impractical, driving up insurance rates, while 15 percent foresee the cars contributing to more accidents. Over 40 percent of respondents hadn't yet formed opinions of the self-automated machines, citing they didn't know how to feel about them. Some people were optimistic about the car's widely discussed safety features, with 19 percent of people agreeing the vehicles would reduce car crashes. 

"Elements of self-driving cars are present in most new vehicles."

Smart cars take standard technology a step further 
Market research indicated that a large number of people remain unsure of what to think about these cars, and it's likely because they have no information on how they operate. According to Investopedia, elements of self-driving cars are present in most new vehicles you can purchase today. Front crash prevention systems, which warn drivers if they are about to hit something and even activates the breaks if the driver is unresponsive, have been on the market for years. The source also pointed to cars that can self-parallel park and have intuitive steering systems as being the "building blocks" of Google's new product. 

Are these vehicles safe? 
These smart-cars are obviously incredibly convenient. Not only would we not have to worry about drowsy or intoxicated individuals getting behind the wheel, but trying to find parking spaces or a ride home from the eye doctor would also become actions of the past. What worries most people who approach smart cars with caution is how safe they are. After all, if these vehicles become subject to glitches, couldn't they go haywire and cause accidents? 

According to Google, their vehicles, which are set to be released in 2017, are safe transportation options. The Associated Press reported that, in an effort to be transparent about their development efforts, Google released some accident data for its self-driving cars. The cars have been in various phases of testing since 2009, and have collectively covered 1.7 million miles. During this time, they were involved in 12 accidents, noted the source. Not all of these incidents were caused by the cars' self-driving features, however - some of them were caused by people operating the machines or other motorists on the road. Google claimed its cars have been subject to a number of rear-endings, dangerous side-swiping incidents and distracted drivers rolling through stop signs.

The company noted that its goal can't be to eliminate accidents completely, but it is striving to reduce them significantly. 

"We don't claim that the cars are going to be perfect. Our goal is to beat human drivers," Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, told The Associated Press. 

Waiting for the subway may soon be a thing of the past once self-driving cars gain popularity. Waiting for the subway may soon be a thing of the past once self-driving cars gain popularity.

How will they affect the everyday consumer?
While transportation probably isn't something you consciously reflect on everyday, you can't deny that it's an influential part of your daily routine. Your life undoubtedly changes whenever you choose to switch or upgrade your primary method of getting around. If the concept of self-driving cars starts to catch on, which it's expected to do over the next decade, the average driver will certainly be affected. 

Investopedia explained that by changing the mode of car operation, you fundamentally alter the entire automotive industry. Many car companies will likely experience financial shifts as they learn how to adapt to this new demand, while the government will need to completely reinvent its licensing and restriction standards. Both the car insurance rates and health insurance rates of people using these cars is expected to change dramatically, depending on how the final products perform. 

In the event accidents happen in these vehicles, there's also a question of who should be held responsible. While current standards dictate drivers are at fault, self-driving cars take this role out of the equation. Legally, should smart car accidents fall on the shoulders of the companies that make them? The legal landscape surrounding automotive issues will have to adapt to this, and many other questions. 

The source also noted that most of these vehicles will be made eco-friendly, meaning they will use less oil. While this could mean positive things for the environment, the convenience of the machines may cause people to use them more frequently. If people are constantly hopping in their cars to take a quick spin around the block, any "green" benefits they possess could ultimately be negated. Still, their ability to function on little or no petrol could have a serious impact on the oil and gas industry. 

Investopedia noted that another industry that will be damaged, if not eliminated as a result of self-driving cars, is the taxi and limousine sector. While there will still be a demand for short-term transportation, by removing the need for a driver, there's really no difference between getting a rental car or calling a cab. These types of companies will likely have to transform their business models in addition to their services to adjust to modern technology.

Public transportation is expected to be altered as well. The source explained that self-driving cars possess the same benefits as trains and busses, but provide users with a more desirable setting and customizable destination points. Because most people would opt to get to work via their private car if they don't have to worry about finding a parking space, even heavily used urban transportation systems will have to undergo changes to stay relevant. 

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