May 29, 2014


Essentially, Google is building a driverless golf cart, not a driverless car. With a top speed of 25 mph — therefore making collisions less likely to be fatal — there’s less risk that your vehicle will hurt someone if something goes wrong.

There’s a lot to like about this approach. Of course, it means you lose some speed. On the other hand, most commutes aren’t that speedy. And I think many people would rather have a 45-minute commute during which they can read than a 35-minute commute during which they have to listen to talk radio while white-knuckling the steering wheel and silently wishing elaborately horrible deaths on the drivers around them.

It also offers Google a way to prove the concept at relatively low risk. As the technology gets safer and more widely accepted, it can be scaled up and speeded up. If you want to get to a truly driverless future, this ultimately seems like a better bet than trying to build from a “mostly driverless” car. The transition from mostly driverless to fully driverless seems big and scary, compared with the transition from 25 mph to 30 mph … to 35 mph … to 40 mph … and so on.

This would more than double my commute time, so it’s a non-starter even if I could read on the way, I think. But the real market is probably for people who want to go out drinking, where celerity is less important.