Google moves towards self-driving car sales

Is the autonomous vehicle project destined to become Google's automotive business?

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Google

Google is pondering a potential move towards the mass manufacture of the self-driving cars currently undergoing testing in California and Texas.

At the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, head of policy for GoogleX Sarah Hunter said the company will be making a "few hundred" of the self-driving vehicles in order to "actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up." As originally reported by The Guardian, Hunter also admitted Google is considering developing and selling autonomous vehicles in the future.

Google's self-driving cars, limited to 25mph, include sensors and 3D mapping technology which create a virtual map of the car's current environment and obstacles. There have been a reported 11 cases of accidents involving the cars, all of which Google claims were down to human error.

The executive shared a few details concerning the cars' recent development, which now include a new set of buttons -- "go," "please slow down and stop," and "stop pretty quickly" -- useful for drivers who wish to retain some control over the cars and can act as a human set of eyes alongside sensors in detecting obstacles.

Hunter commented:

"We haven't decided yet how we're going to bring this to market. Right now, our engineers are trying to figure out [..] how to make a car genuinely drive itself.

Once we figure that out, we'll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that we manufacture at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that we own and operate as a service?"

See also: Google's autonomous car injuries: Blame the human

While this statement implies consumers interested in purchase may be waiting a long time, the executive also said models which are released to the general public may not be all-electric in the same manner as current prototypes. Instead, it is possible the cars will be hybrids.

The tech giant also recently appointed John Krafcik, the president of online car sales firm TrueCar, as CEO of the self-driving vehicle project. Hired in late September, Krafcik is a mechanical engineer with experience at Ford and Hyundai.

Chris Urmson, the former project chief, will now lead the technical development side of Google's vehicle development.

A Google spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal:

"We're feeling good about our progress, so now we're investing in building out a team that can help us bring this technology to its full potential.

John's combination of technical expertise and auto-industry experience will be particularly valuable as we collaborate with many different partners to achieve our goal."

While Google is interested in the mass-market potential of self-driving cars -- highlighted by the hire of Krafcik, who has a lot of experience in the sales aspect of the automotive industry -- the tech giant does not want to manufacture the cars itself, according to the spokeswoman. Instead, the tech giant hopes to partner with other companies willing to shoulder this part of the process.

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