Tesla vs. Google: Both In The Self-Driving Car Race, Each With Its Own Approach
Tesla and Google are keen on populating the streets with autonomous vehicles and are both shifting gears to make that happen as soon as possible.
The differences between the two companies have a direct impact on the rather different paths they take to reach their common goal.
Google put its autonomous driving prototype to the test a few years ago, but it noticed that the drivers were utterly not prepared for the responsibility.
The company observed that once behind the wheel of the self-driving Lexus SUVs, the drivers got quickly distracted and stopped paying attention to the car going about on its way. Mind you, this was happening while going 60 mph on a freeway.
"It got to the point where people were doing ridiculous things in the car," says Chris Urmson, the leader of Google's self-driving car program.
The realization that people could not be trusted with semi-autonomous cars led Google into developing cars that are fully autonomous. Alongside Google, other carmakers aim to eliminate the human factor by pushing for the highest level of possible autonomy in their vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ranks autonomous vehicles on a scale of 1 to 5. Cars that are level 1 have the least autonomy, while level 5 are completely self-driven.
The autopilot feature from Tesla's cars ranks as level 2, as it is able to do things such as keep the car centered on a lane, change lanes safely and make speed adjustments based on traffic levels. Critics chastised level 2 cars because the system is able to lure the drivers into a false sense of safety, thus leading people to pay less attention to the road.
Meanwhile, Google pushes itself to deliver levels 4 and 5 cars. At level 4, the vehicle only needs navigation instructions from the driver, while the level 5 vehicle requires no driver, at all.
Tesla's cars amassed about 130 million miles using the autopilot feature before the first autonomous-driving fatality occurred in May. The case is under scrutiny from the federal authorities.
As the NHTSA still does not have a guideline in place for self-driving technology, companies approach the subject as they see fit.
Google's and Tesla's strategies show the cleavage between their goals and business strategies.
Tesla Motors is a small, important and essentially innovative player in the auto industry, while Google branches from mobile OSs to virtual reality devices. This means that Google is less pressured to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to its self-driving cars. In fact, the company states that it will partner up with established carmakers to build its vehicles, as it does not intend to cater to the manufacturing process on its own. Insiders familiar with the matter speculate that Google might simply aim to distribute its self-driving software in order to replicate the Android OS success model.
Tesla Motors has to take a different route to secure revenue.
"Tesla is under some pressure to build this car company and start making a profit," notes Michelle Krebs, senior analyst of Auto Traders.
According to Tesla Motors, its cars are thoroughly tested in-house before they reach the streets. The company notes that testing the vehicles in real-life scenarios greatly improves the software, as it is programmed to learn from experience.
"We are continuously and proactively enhancing our vehicles with the latest advanced safety technology," Tesla affirms.
Which approach sounds better to you, Google's or Tesla's?