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Google’s Brin and Page Have Big Hopes for Self-Driving Cars

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[Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin]

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in the company’s early days. Photo courtesy

In what is being called a rare dual interview, billionaire Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin recently discussed a wide range of topics, including self-driving cars. In the interview, which was conducted by Vinod Khosla at the annual KV CEO Summit, Brin says he hopes that self-driving cars will eventually transform transportation worldwide. As this blog has written, Google has been testing its own self-driving car for five years, and in May announced it has created 100-200 models of a prototype for further testing.

Brin told Khosla he hopes self-driving cars reduce the need for individuals to own cars and, in turn, alleviate the problems of finding parking places and navigating traffic congestion. Self-driving cars will not require as many parking spaces as driver-owned cars do “because you don’t need one car per person,” Brin said. “They just come and get you when you need them.”

Other advantages of the autonomous cars is that they can form road trains and travel at high speeds, making more efficient use of space and of people’s time, he added. He said he hopes the cars will bring about a dramatic change that, among other things, provides transportation for many people who currently can’t get around if they are “too old, too young, disabled and so forth.”

Google has been using machine-focused learning for the self-driving cars, Brin said. Khosla, a billionaire technology venture capitalist, told Brin and Page that he loves that the driverless car provides a 97% reduction in the cost of a driven car, “making it cheaper than a car you own probably.” Although the self-driving car completely changes the economics of cars, traditional auto companies will not like a reduction in the number of cars, Khosla said.

Page said that depends on whether carmakers have a five-year or a 20-year view. Brin suggested that eventually Google might work with several companies or partners to manufacture and/or provide service to the autonomous vehicles. He went on to say:

This is all pretty speculative. Right now, we’re working hard to just get the basics so the technology working. But the ideal self-driven car is not one that’s– we’ve experimented, where we convert the Lexuses and the Priuses. But it’s also really nice to not have a steering wheel, not have pedals; maybe the seats should face each other, things like that. I’m not sure that the traditional car designs are ideal for self-driving.

Not everyone willingly embraces the idea of a country of driverless cars. In a CNET article about the Brin and Page interview, Chris Matyszczyk writes:

You might think you like being in charge of your own vehicle, going as fast as you like, turning off to go down a less-beaten path. You might have to stop thinking that way for the good of, well, everyone else who will have to stop thinking that way.

And then there is a comment to the CNET piece, by Alex_Darkness, who writes:

One’s emotional need to feel empower[ed] by driving (some form of feeling in control) should always be placed second to the common good of reduction of traffic (less traffic fatalities, less pollution, less cost to transit system and transit users, etc). Human[s] may have issues making these kinds of choices but will have to if humanity is to survive.


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