Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), better known as Google, has sent its autonomous driving cars to Kirkland, Washington State. The choice was not random. Washington State is rainy and Google wants to find out how its driverless cars can cope in wet conditions. The announcement is sure to boost Google stock’s image as an innovator. (Source: “Google now testing self-driving cars in Washington,” CNBC, February 4, 2016.)
Driverless technology is the future of the automotive industry. The predictable nature of driverless cars means that they can reduce road accidents. Google is one of the leaders in driverless technology. Google’s tests in Washington will bring driverless technology closer to the market. Indeed, self-driving cars have already become essential to the value of Google stock.
Rain, snow, fog, and even mud reduce visibility and sensors on self-driving cars must learn to adapt. Google’s car will have to understand how to cope with the reduced visibility that precipitation and other weather elements can cause. Its sensors must react intelligently, depending on the environment. For now, Google is testing its technology on specially adapted Lexus “RX450h” hybrid SUVs.
Google has been testing the driverless technology for about six years in Mountain View, California. It expanded testing to Austin, Texas last summer. Google chose the Texan town because it adds a special challenge for the autonomous driving system. Whereas in Mountain View, traffic lights align vertically (as in most of the U.S.), in Austin, they align horizontally. This allows engineers to observe how the technology reacts to an unusual situation.
The move to Kirkland, WA comes just as the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) considers easing vehicle safety rules in favor of driverless technology to speed up its development. (Source: Ibid.)
Google’s driverless cars have already traveled more than 1.4 million miles in autonomous mode, according to the company. (Source: Ibid.) This company is leading the driverless offensive, but has found regulations to be an obstacle to development.
Google stock should gain from the NHTSA’s decision to allow 2,500 vehicles (from all manufacturers) to test driverless technology on open roads. Given the advanced status of its research, Google is leading the race to be the first to sell a driverless car to the public in the U.S.
To address the challenges of self-driving, the “Google Car” is able to communicate with pedestrians. This should make its driverless technology easier to install on a wide scale, easing regulatory concerns. Google has filed a patent for its this technology that allows communication with pedestrians.
In the future, Google plans to test its driverless cars in three other cities. One of these could be Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Google is also looking for a partner to help build its autonomous cars. Many analysts expected Ford Motor Company and Google to partner up, but at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Ford made no mention of such a partnership. (Source: “CES: Google, Ford Self-Driving Vehicle Tie-Up And Volkswagen Electric Microbus Coming, Say Reports,” Forbes, December 22, 2015.)