Last week driverless 18-wheel trucks made news, now it’s time for driverless cars to be in the spotlight. Google announced today in a blog post that several of its self-driving cars are leaving the corporate campus, and will begin driving around Mountain View, Calif.

 

California law requires self-driving vehicles to also have manual controls during testing, so while the prototype vehicles are designed without a steering wheel or foot pedals, the test vehicles will have removable versions of those manual systems. Human “safety drivers” will have access to a steering wheel, and gas and brake pedals, and they can take over driving if needed. Google is capping the vehicle speeds at 25 miles an hour.

 

The announcement comes days after Google disclosed accident data to show that its self-driving cars are safe. The company admits its cars had been involved in 11 “minor” accidents over a six-year period. None of the accidents were the fault of Google’s cars, the company posts, and there were no injuries.

 

There is a clear need for this type of vehicle, which may lead to a “revolution for personal transportation,” according to Google. “Vehicles that can take anyone from point A to point B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car,” the company wrote in the blog post today.

 

This isn’t the first time Google has put driverless cars on public roads. It previously tested modified Lexus sport-utility vehicles. But this is the first time Google is using its fleet of small cars. Chris Urmson, who directs the project, says Google is looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to recognizing challenges which are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle—such as where the vehicle should stop if it can’t stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion.

 

As would be expected, Google isn’t the only company interested in self-driving cars. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Uber is working to open a research and development center in Pittsburgh to study the field of autonomous cars. Uber’s new institute, called the Uber Advanced Technologies Center, will be a joint initiative with Carnegie Mellon University. It will also pair Uber with researchers from the National Robotics Engineering Center.

 

Uber is positioning the research center as a long-term bet. Aside from its private car service, Uber has experimented with food delivery, cargo transportation and courier services, among other offerings. So as the Times article reported, an autonomous car service could broaden Uber’s service, even if it is years away from becoming reality.

 

Furthermore, Swiss telephone firm Swisscom has also announced it is testing a driverless car on the roads of Zurich. The Volkswagen Passat has been equipped with sensors, computers and special software, company official Christian Petit told reporters, an Agence France-Presse article notes. The computer drives, steers and brakes the car, and uses laser scanners, radar and video cameras to detect nearby vehicles, pedestrians and road users.

 

Swisscom isn’t turning into a car manufacturer, however future innovations in the automotive industry will center on networking with the environment, Petit says in the article. The driverless car is a prime example of digitization, and therefore is of great interest to Swisscom, Petit says.

 

What are your thoughts on driverless cars? Obviously the increased use of electronics and software—along with radar and sensors—will add complexity to automotive design as well as supplier offerings. What other potential impact do you see for the supply chain?