The auto industry is culturally and economically unequipped to move quickly. It has billions of dollars in fixed costs (think how expensive it is to retool even part of an auto plant) and a glacial development process. Integrating entertainment and telephony software into a car is one thing; building a car around software that can safely pilot a ton or so of steel at high speeds is quite another. As both Ford and BMW owners know, those automakers have done miserable jobs with the comparatively simple task of entertainment and telephony integration. Imagine how their self-driving cars would work.
Will Mountain View be the new Detroit?
Google has tackled hardware projects before, with mixed success. Its first version of an Android smartphone, the Nexus One, was a mess. But now it's building the Google Fiber network in a number of cities and learned to build a decent tablet after it fumbled the original Nexus 7.
No, Google isn't about to buy an auto plant. Indeed, Asus builds the Nexus 7, which may be a model for what Google will do.
According to Efrati's post, Google has been talking to major auto-components companies, such as Continental and Magna International, to manufacture a car under Google's direction. The move came after Google's talks with big car brands about incorporating its technology into their vehicles failed to yield a partnership. He also noted that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper last week reported that Google was nearing a deal with Continental, one of the world's largest auto-components suppliers, to create a self-driving car system. (Google has not commented on either of these reports.)
It will take a lot to convince me that driverless cars are safe or economically feasible. Still, it's a fascinating idea and one that might require the expertise — and hubris — of a Google.
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