Minnis Minute: Google car is 'IT'

By John Minnis
Legal News

Remember back in 2001 when Good Morning America was hyping “IT”? IT was supposed to be an invention that would completely revolutionize the world. With great fanfare, ABC host Charlie Gibson unveiled IT. IT turned out to be a dud.

True, the Segway two-wheel transporter is a nifty device, most useful for security guards, but it never really caught on with the public. A British businessman took the plunge less than a year ago when he bought the company from its American investor and again more recently when he rode an all-terrain version of the vehicle off a cliff near his Yorkshire home. The Segway was recovered, but the investor died.

Clearly, the Segway did not transform the world, nor even the Postal Service, but Google co-founder Larry Page may be on to a truly disruptive technology: the autonomous car.

Google has already come a long way in building a truly autonomous car capable of traveling thousands of miles without driver interference. According to a recent New York Times story, “Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic,” seven test cars have driven themselves a thousand miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional driver control.

One accident occurred: Another motorist rear-ended a Google car.

The Google cars have even handled such challenging routes as the twisty Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles and San Francisco’s steep Lombard Street known for its hairpin turns.

While it may be a decade (or more in this economy) before autonomous cars are available to consumers, their advent can and most likely will transform society as profoundly as the Internet and Google.

Think about it. More than 37,000 people die of accidents each year. I’ll bet many are due to drunken driving or human error. “I didn’t even see the guy,” is often the refrain.

With 360-degree sensor vision, the Google (autonomous) car has no blind spots. Further, the car can be programmed to meet your driving comfort level—conservative, aggressive or middle of the road.

Drunken driving would be a thing of the past. All the inebriated fellow need do is pour himself into the backseat and say, “Home, James,” er, Google, or whomever. The car could even be programmed to prevent human override if breath alcohol is detected.

Which brings up an interesting legal consideration. If no one is driving, who is legally responsible should an accident occur? Under current law, a human must have control of the vehicle at all times. But what happens if the occupant in the driver’s seat is sound asleep or otherwise not paying attention?

Or what if there is no one in the car? A truly autonomous car would not need a passenger to move from point “A” to “B.” In fact, a family could share a vehicle by sending it home for the kids to use after mom or dad have been dropped off at work. The autonomous car would be a godsend to parent chauffeurs.

I can’t wait for the day I can send my car out to get its own carwash or pickup a takeout at Applebee’s.

The Google car will further extend the mobility of the handicapped, seniors, the hearing or seeing impaired or even the blind. Finally, an explanation why there is Braille on keypads at drive-up ATMs. The designers were simply ahead of their time.

Travel by car would be so much more pleasurable. As a frequent snowbird to Florida, I have often fought drowsiness and wished I could just put the car on autopilot and take a nap. With the Google car, that would be possible. In fact, I envision Google car caravans traveling up and down I-75.

While we may travel by car more if it were that easy, the energy we use may not be that much more. An automated, computerized vehicle would probably not have a lead foot.

The impact of the Google car on commuting and society is mindboggling. It is hard to think of anyone who would not benefit—except taxi and bus drivers and over-the-road truckers.

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