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Google Self-Driving Cars Will Be Ready In Years, Not Decades, Says Alphabet's Eric Schmidt

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Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt responded to a question at Alphabet's annual stockholder meeting, giving an optimistic deadline to the introduction of Google branded, self-driving cars.

A member of the audience asked the executive how much longer before autonomous cars from the company will hit the roads, and Schmidt replied in an uncharacteristic oblique fashion. The Alphabet leader is usually known for his upfront answers, but this time he tiptoed around the subject and offered vague promises.

Schmidt took his time to explain that a multitude of factors are in play when looking at the release of Google self-driving cars, and regulation is one of the essential ones.

This is hardly surprising, as automotive companies from Detroit to Silicon Valley complain that regulation is one of the main brakes in their development of autonomous vehicles.

A very positive signal came in February, when U.S. vehicle regulators accepted Google's car AI as a legally able "driver."

Schmidt mentions that the overall opinion within his company is that the deadline is "some years, not decades" away. He also notes that some areas will see the driverless vehicles earlier than others.

"It's obviously a great deal easier to do this in areas that, for example, have ample parking," he says.

The hint at parking spaces is important, as Google has been touting for some time that its self-driving initiative will contribute to freeing up parking spaces. The idea is that traditionally congested areas benefit more from self-driving cars, as these are able to park themselves further away and return to pick up riders.

It should be noted that Google tests its cars in locations such as Austin, Mountain View, Phoenix and Kirkland, places which have significantly more parking spaces than New York City or San Francisco. Therefore, it is ironic that Schmidt wishes the latter to have priority in receiving Google's self-driving car first.

During Alphabet's stockholders' meeting on Wednesday, Schmidt reinforced his determination to see the project implemented.

"It's time to make it legal, to literally be testing it, find the models that work, and offer it," he notes.

Google's autonomous driving project started in 2009 and the company deployed 58 vehicles on the road sporting self-driving abilities. The fleet amassed over 1.6 million miles of autonomous driving since the debut of the project.

Tech companies that are interested in seeing self-driving vehicles on the roads as soon as possible have partnered up and formed a lobbying group dubbed the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. The coalition includes Google, Volvo, Ford, Lyft and Uber.

Check out Eric Schmidt's car comments at approximately the 1:20:00 mark, in the video below.

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