Taxi-hailing company Uber has received a massive investment from Google Ventures, seemingly as a way to integrate Google’s self-driving vehicles into mainstream use. Reports have emerged that an autonomous ‘robo-taxi’ service is being created, where vehicles can be ordered to pick-up and drop-off passengers without human intervention.
Despite a string of legal challenges from taxi unions and local governments, along with the emergence of rival competitors such as Hailo, the potential of Uber has been noted by Google investors. The outlay of over $250 million – the highest investment by the company to date – will give Uber the chance to grow and improve on its current $350 billion valuation.
Whether Google will design and control their own fleet of cars with self-driving capabilities is yet to be confirmed. However, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has reported a deal with automotive supplier Continental is on the cards.
Prototypes of autonomous vehicles have already been developed by Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota, although these companies are unlikely to welcome Google into the same arena.
Google’s trials of these self-driving vehicles have gone well; they have only been involved in two accidents so far, of which the technology itself wasn’t to blame. The Toyota Prius, fitted with the relevant array of sensors, cameras and computer gadgets, is the model of vehicle currently used by Google.
It’s expected that the final cost of integrating such technology into these cars will evantually cost upwards of $100,000 on the consumer market, although an accurate figure is yet to be released.
Although the innovation is exciting and potentially lucrative for Google, there are potential concerns which could disrupt its progress. Investing the company’s own money in the manufacture of the self-driving vehicles is deemed to be a high-risk strategy by some. This is despite the fact that the technology will be produced from within Google X; an in-house lab that plans out and tests risky projects.
Similar to the problems Uber had with tackling legal battles, Google must also need to find a way around local laws and regulations. The concept of autonomous vehicles invokes apprehension from some quarters; time and fail-safe demonstrations will be required to satisfy legislators. However, they have been cleared for operation in four American states, as well as tests being authorised in the UK.