The alarm on your smartphone goes off, time to get up and go to work. As you reluctantly drag yourself out of bed to get in the shower, your car has also been awaken, wirelessly, via that same smartphone alarm. The car is 2 miles away at a free charge station nearby charging it's battery for the day ahead. It drives itself back home and awaits you as you walk out of the door. Once you get into the car it already knows it has to take you to work. But today you want to stop and get a cup a coffee so you tell the car to go to the nearest Starbucks on it's route to work. As you ride in the car you're able catch up on email and check today's news as your autonomous car drives you safely to your destination.
The situation I just described sounds like something out of a futuristic Steven Spielberg movie but it's actually technology that exist today. Google has been hard at work at creating a fully autonomous, driverless car for the past few years. And to say they've been successful so far would be an understatement.
Google has developed the most advanced self-driving car in test today. Using a combination of GPS, lasers, cameras and computing power, Google has created an amazingly accurate self-driving machine. Able to detect street lights, people, drive at night, and even through complicated twist and turns the Google car is impressive. So far they've driven over 300K miles without a single accident. They've continued to vigorously test the technology while lobbying to make driverless cars legal across the U.S., most recently in California and Nevada. Google believes their cars are not only more convenient but will save lives and improve traffic in large cities. Google's co-founder, Sergey Brin predicts you could be riding in robot cars in as little as 5 years.
Of course being able to use the internet on the way to work without killing anyone is just the tip of the iceberg. Autonomous cars could have an incredible impact on society when it comes to how we think about transportation. The trucking, taxi, and car service industries would all be revolutionized. The idea of actually owning a car could even be challenged. Most Americans commit a sizable portion of their yearly incomes buying or leasing automobiles that spend 80% of their time parked. With driverless car services you could just pay for a car to pick you up and drop you off whenever needed. With a fleet of cars all working on a network, communicating with each other, the efficiency of an automated taxi service could drive prices extremely low. You could literally schedule a car to pick you up via an app and have a car at your location within minutes. Not to mention the versatility of being able to call in a certain size or type of vehicle based on the task at hand. Need to move a couch, order a truck. Dinner for two? Order the more compact vehicle to get the job done. For some, the thought of owning a car could become passé, which in itself is an ecological triumph.
Now when you combine the convenience, safety and efficiency of Google's autonomous car technology with the low energy cost, pollution free technology of Tesla's fully electric Model S vehicles and you just may have the perfect car. If you're not familiar with the Model S, it's a fully electric (luxury) car. Starting at $49,900 for the 160 mi/per charge model and going up to $69,900 for the 300 mi/per charge model. The company was co-founded by tech entrepreneur/real-life Tony Starks, Elon Musk (Paypal, SpaceX) and after years of promises and some setbacks, Tesla is finally bringing the electric car to the mainstream. It has all the bells and whistles of cars in it's price range (even a 17 inch touch-screen) and then some. The company is even setting up free charge stations around the country, starting with California, which just received it's first six. These charge stations are all solar powered and free to use by any Tesla owner. If you're lucky enough to live near a charge station, free fuel for the life of the car, that in itself is revolutionary. If you don't live near one of their chargers you can simply plug the car into any normal household power outlet. I can imagine once autonomous vehicles are more of a norm, there will be charge stations that these vehicles could connect themselves too.
Tesla says they plan on making a more affordable model in the next 2 years which could allow the electric car revolution to kick into high gear. Google is still testing it's technology and finding ways to bring down cost, while working with insurance companies to offer lower rates on autonomous cars. Google has also been in talks with car manufacturers about implementing their technology into cars once it's ready. The technology that makes Google's cars drive so accurately, currently cost about $150,000. Google thinks it'll be able to reduce that to just a few thousand dollars per car in a few years. On top of the technical issues, there are still legal and liability questions to answer before this is a reality. Nevertheless, the perfect car may not be too far away after all.