Self-Driving Bicycle

Keeping up its tradition of great April Fool’s Day pranks, Google Netherlands gently spoofs Dutch culture by hyping the Google Self-Driving Bike.

The YouTube video features the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam boasting, “I think the self-driving bike could really give a boost to the economy because people could even work on their bicycle.”

The director of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union states, “This is the biggest invention since the invention of the bicycle itself.”

Thumbs-up 🙂

Google’s Self-Driving Car Garage

Atlas Obscura is one of my favorite travel websites. It’s a repository for off-the-beaten path attractions and curiosities in the world.

One of their entries is for Google’s self-driving car garage at 1608 Plymouth Street in Mountain View, California.

This appears to be a parking garage, not a mechanical garage, so there’s no opportunity to see path-breaking work up-close.

But it seems like an easy garage to swing by and peer into, maybe a little bit like the famous HP Garage in Palo Alto. It’s funny how they’re both garages, although Google is using its garage in a more traditional sense.

Hopefully I can stop by the next time I’m in the area.

Alaska Would Like Google’s Cars

Alaska is pitching Google on testing its self-driving cars in The Last Frontier.

And Google is at least taking the idea seriously enough to send a representative up to talk with state officials.

Inclement weather is one of the biggest challenges facing autonomous vehicles, and Alaska is a good place to find and test against inclement weather.

This story is of particular interest to me because I was born in Alaska and have strong family ties to the state. It would be super-cool if this came to fruition.

Google Applies a Little Pressure to Uber

Google Applies a Little Pressure to Uber

One of the elements of the self-driving car industry that fascinates me is the interplay of cooperation and competition between companies.

Google is the most interesting company in this regard, because Google is so large that it touches many different elements of other businesses.

For example, Google Ventures has invested money in Uber, Google Maps supplies Uber, [Google] Android is Uber’s largest platform, and yet [Google] X is building self-driving cars that might compete with Uber.

And recently, Google Maps began directing users to services that compete with Uber.

In some countries, searching for a route from one destination to another now prompts Google Maps to provide information about Uber and about competitive ride-sharing services.

Interestingly, the US is not in that list of “some countries”. Google Maps does not promote Lyft in the US, only Uber. So far.

NPR Interview with Chris Urmson

NPR has a short interview with Chris Urmson, technical director of Google’s self-driving car project.

The interview focuses on whether human drivers should be able to take over from the computer or not.

Urmson has a neat analogy I hadn’t heard before:

You wouldn’t imagine that in the back of a taxi, we put an extra steering wheel or brake pedal there for the passenger to grab ahold of anytime. It would just be crazy to think about doing that.

Interestingly, Urmson notes that Google might allow human drivers to take control of the car from a standing start, because people might enjoy driving on the weekend.

Google’s (First?) Accident in Autonomous Mode

Google’s self-driving car has been in a number of accidents over the years, but none were the fault of the autonomous driving software. The accidents all either occurred when the vehicle was in “human-driver” mode or were the fault of the driver of a different vehicle (Google’s cars have been rear-ended several times).

On Valentine’s Day, however, Google filed an accident report that might possibly be first accident for which the self-driving car software was at fault.

This was a very minor accident with no injuries, and it’s not completely clear from Google’s self-report who was at fault, although it seems like the Google car was. I would be curious to see how the insurance companies involved parcel out blame.

From the report:

A Google Lexus-model autonomous vehicle (“Google AV”) was traveling in autonomous mode eastbound on El Camino Real in Mountain View in the far right-hand lane approaching the Castro St. intersection. As the Google AV approached the intersection, it signaled its intent to make a right turn on red onto Castro St. The Google A V then moved to the right-hand side of the lane to pass traffic in the same lane that was stopped at the intersection and proceeding straight. However, the Google AV had to come to a stop and go around sandbags positioned around a storm drain that were blocking its path. When the light turned green, traffic in the lane continued past the Google AV. After a few cars had passed, the Google AV began to proceed back into the center of the lane to pass the sandbags. A public transit bus was approaching from behind. The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was re-entering the center of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus. The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling less than 2 mph, and the bus was travelling at about 15mph at the time of contact.

The Google AV sustained body damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver-side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.

Moonshots

Google’s self-driving cars are developed within X, the department colloquially known as “Google’s Moonshot Factory”.

Astro Teller is the head of X (his name was Eric until he changed it to something that suited him more).

Recently, in Backchannel, Teller describes the secret of X as trying to solve huge problems and then killing the solutions (and entire projects!) that don’t work.

It’s a great meditation on the Silicon Valley “fail faster” ethos.

Read the whole thing.


Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on February 17, 2016.

Google Is Heading to Motor City

So reports Crain’s Detroit Business, although I have seen this rumor in other places, previously. Among other public evidence, Google is hiring a project manager in Ann Arbor.

It’s hard to say whether this is because Google is considering ramping up manufacturing, or because existing and potential partners are all there, or because of the local automotive talent pool. But it makes sense, and it will be interesting to see how much of X’s self-driving car project shifts to Michigan.


Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on February 16, 2016.

Google Self-Driving Trucks

Google just received a patent for lockers in self-driving trucks.

Although this is only a patent, it’s not hard to see from here to a place where Google is directly competing with Uber. And maybe FedEx and Amazon, for that matter.

On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that entering this type of business would be a direct departure from Google’s Android strategy. In that business, Google has been content to own the software and let other companies manage the hardware and services that come on top of it.

A third, more trivial, thought, is — do we really need a patent for this? Putting lockers inside of trucks is a neat idea, but it hardly seems like the type of thing that merits a patent. I would hate to see some small startup get squashed because it doesn’t own the patent for putting lockers in a truck.


Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on February 12, 2016.