Calling Google's RoboTaxi

Google appears to be designing its own self-driving car. Not surprisingly, the major automakers declined to cut their own throats by participating.

People familiar with Google’s project say the company doesn’t believe most of the major auto brands actually want to build a fully autonomous car.

Some auto executives including Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler AG, owner of Mercedes Benz, have said as much. At an event earlier this summer, Zetsche reportedly said that his company wants to automate the boring elements of driving, such as being stuck in traffic, but would “never automate the cool part of driving.”

Ah, the "cool part of driving". I'm trying to decide which part of my recent driving experiences are the "cool part". Making the same repetitive trips to the same stores and malls? The eight-hour drives on toll roads on my vacation to the east coast?

Anyway, one of the most exciting aspects to Google's efforts is the intent to develop robo-taxi systems, which make a lot of sense given the high probable cost of a fully autonomous car. Why buy when you can rent car services? Especially when the car just appears when you need it?

One idea Google has been studying is how its vehicles could become part of robo-taxi systems in which a fleet of self-driving cars would pick up passengers and work commuters on demand, according to people familiar with the matter. Google believes that such systems could potentially reduce the need for people to own cars and reduce accidents.

Last year Google considered possible U.S. cities where it could help launch such a robo-taxi service, said one of the people familiar with its plans. Such an approach would be similar to Google’s Fiber project, in which it is beginning to install high-speed Internet and cable service to residents in the Kansas City area to pressure telecom industry incumbents to boost Web speeds.

Science fiction writers have pioneered thinking about robotic taxi systems. For example, consider Larry Niven's bubble cars from World out of Time (1976) or the tin cabbie from James Blish's 1957 novel Cities in Flight. And don't forget the autocab from Robert Heinlein's 1951 novel Between Planets.

A more recent take on the robot taxi idea can be found in Alan Dean Foster's 2006 novel Sagramanda; see the automated taxi:

...he urgently addressed the vehicle's AI."Can't we go any faster? I'm already running late."

Since the taxi utilized sophisticated electronic sensors to perceive its surroundings, the traditional forward windshield existed only to allow fares to see where they were going. The vehicle was as aware of this as its passenger.

"As you can see, sir, this is a very busy street, and I am forbidden by law and by coding from forcing a path..."

All were equipped with the same city-regulated programming.

Via Jessica Lessin.

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