The beginning of this story goes back to 2009, when Google generated a bold idea to create a self-driving car by the year of 2020.
Almost eight years have passed, and today the world-known corporation can be proud of its results with over 2,000,000 miles driven by its autonomous car prototype nationwide. It turned out to be not only a driverless vehicle, but also a smart high-tech product able to recognize bicycles and pedestrians around it.
However, a great problem for Google right now is to commercialize its project. Unlike Uber and Tesla companies, even though it managed to build the first functioning driverless car, Google turned out to be rather ineffective in managing and motivating its personnel.
Let us take a look at how the process developed for Google and its bold high-tech initiative of building a 100% autonomous car first in the market.
The year of 2009 was a start for Google’s autonomous car project, when the company’s initiative got headed by Sebastian Thrun, once one of the leading professors at Stanford. There he had his own research group that developed their own prize-winning robot car prototype named Stanley. Before heading the driverless vehicle project at Google Thrun previously worked for such corporate projects as Google Glass and Street View. However, today professor Thrun works outside the corporation having his own startup Udacity.
The corporation got six Toyotas and one Audi for testing its new software in Mountain View, CA. Google attracted a number of experienced drivers to control and evaluate the abilities of its new technology, and even today several drivers are regularly hired by the company to sit behind the steering wheel and control the driverless process.
One of the primary tasks Google stands before its autonomous cars is to be able to “see” the surrounding world. Thus, all its prototypes are fully equipped with various sensors, navigators, radars and cameras. Today all this hardware can detect pedestrians, other cars, construction areas and even small birds in a distance of over one stadium away.
Over 140,000 miles of tested distance have been recorded by the company by 2010. What’s even more important is that Google managed, in their evaluations, to improve the traffic deaths statistics from one year to another.
In 2010 the project team included such high-qualified hardware specialists as Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo and Anthony Levandowski, a creator of the world’s first self-driving motorcycle.
In 2011 there was a need to leave Toyota cars for Lexus models and test the new technology on 23 RX450H SUVs.
In 2014 Google proudly announced its breakthrough in the market by saying that now their self-driving vehicles are capable to foresee and cope with literally thousands of everyday situations that can happen on city roads. That was some great news for the whole industry.
The 2014 Code Conference attracted millions of views all over the world as an event where Google first demonstrated its driverless car prototype powered only by one button, with no traditional elements like brakes or a wheel. However, the prototype’s speed was rather low at the moment – only 25 mph, but the company’s plans were inspiring.
The town of Mountain View became the first road-testing ground for Google’s autonomous prototypes in 2015. In July the road-testing ground was also moved to Austin, TX. John Krafcik of Hyundai and Ford was hired in September as a head of the project.
Despite all rumors that Google was to cooperate with Ford in this self-driving initiative, the partnership never happened, though. And today Ford has its own autonomous vehicle project being tested in three US states.
The first car accident with Google’s autonomous product was reported in February 2016, and that was the prototype that caused it.
The company decided to add a new type of weather conditions to their testing schedule by selecting Kirkland, WA as one more location to test the cars in the traditionally rainy weather. The testing map was extended by Phoenix, AZ with the city’s desert weather conditions, and Google planned to receive some useful information on how the sensors depend on temperature outside.
In May 2016 the testing car fleet was extended with Fiat Chrysler minivans.
Certain actions were taken in the direction of commercializing the project, and Google hired Shaun Stewart of Airbnb to take care of the financial and marketing part. However, Urmson left the company in August and he became one of many former Google specialists who left the company that year. Levandowski also preferred to start up his own project outside Google. That year was also marked with a couple of traffic accidents involving Google’s autonomous vehicles.
Today the company plans to make its driverless car project a separate business within the Alphabet frames.