Would You Buy a Self-Driving Car Off These Men?

Google or Tesla? The race to be the self-driving car kings of the road

Google Self-Driving Car by Martial Red
The shape of things to come: Google’s self-driving car. Image by Martial Red (via Shutterstock).

Imagine it’s 2008: you are sat in the canteen of Net66’s HQ trying to find a seat. You talk to one of the sales people within The Social Media People and say “we could be driving Google cars”. The person puts on a sly laugh with words similar to “yeah, right”. Fast forward eight years, and say the very same words to your fellow colleague: this time the response is more complementary. Self-driving cars actually exist. Back in 2008, a self-driving car meant yours truly doing the driving.

Right now, we have a two-horse race between Tesla and Google. Tesla, Elon Musk’s company, have gone for the performance market with their attractive ‘3’, ‘S’ and ‘X’ models. Apart from the fact they are electric cars, the real game (or should be lane?) changer is the ‘S’. The Model S is quoted as being “the safest, most exhilarating sedan on the road”. There are three options: 60D (entry level), 90D, and the P90D. The P90D is Tesla’s most souped-up Model S. Its electric engine has 463 bhp and 532 bhp options – both of which putting a standard two-car diesel train to shame.

Google’s self-driving car will be aimed at a wider audience. At present, the Tesla Model S – available for sale from your nearest Tesla dealer – is beyond the budget of many drivers. Google’s model, still in development has many features that will become standard, such as ultrasonic sensors and rotating rooftop cameras.

Driving yourself or self-driving?

The Tesla Model S isn’t (whisper it) a true self-driving car. It is an electric performance car with automatic features for changing lanes, finding parking spaces, and an Autosteer mode. In this mode, you still need to keep your hands on the wheel and control the brakes and accelerator.

Google’s automatic automobile is a true self-driving car. There is no steering wheel, a daunting prospect for some drivers but liberating. There is no brakes and acceleration: artificial intelligence, and ultrasonic and image sensing is used to govern speeds. A gamepad gives the ‘driver’ control.

Its rooftop camera and laser finder is used for distance calculations for objects within 200 yards. The camera can also detect traffic lights, read road signs, and pedestrians. Other features include bumper mounted radar, ultrasonic sensors on the rear wheels, plus altimeters, gyroscopes and tachymeters.

Safety features

The Google self-driving car would make for safer driving as artificial intelligence would govern the vehicle’s speed and perception. If the driver needs to change the route, the gamepad style device enables him or her to make the diversion (say for example, if the family need a toilet stop at Hartshead Moor Services). Its ability to notice diversions, pick up on road signs or deal with Smart Motorways will be a major asset.

The Tesla Model S has parking sensors, a lane and blind spot warning displays, plus electronic stability and traction control. There is also four wheel antilock disc brakes that coming with an electronic parking brake. Safe driving is down to the person behind the Model S steering wheel and dashboard.

Where next?

In 2024, Google and Tesla could occupy a similar position in the motor industry to that of Ford and Vauxhall on these shores. Elon Musk’s Model S has the looks that are likely to woo motorists into the self-driving fold. The retention of ‘traditional’ driving controls are a stopgap till the first fully automatic Tesla cars hit the showrooms. The Google car, once it reaches production stages, could have more mass appeal once five door models with varied designs are produced.

Eventually, self-driving vehicles will be a regular feature of online shopping deliveries. They could be used on rural bus routes with the driver being able to tender fares as usual. They could be a regular feature of city centres as taxis. In the last year, self-driving vehicles have been tested in Coventry and Milton Keynes.

Recent opinion polls have stated that 50% of Americans, and 43% of Britons are unlikely to travel in self-driving vehicles. How much of this could be due to their interpretation of self-driving? The bus still needs its driver for tendering fares; last minute changes to the route are best dealt with via the driver, where he or she can change the route via Google. Eight or more years from now, we have a lot of convincing to do.

Net66, 06 July 2016.