As driverless cars make their way to Nevada and Florida, and possibly California, in state-sanctioned test programs, Google continues to play a big part in collecting the data. It's self-diving Toyota Prius vehicles have clocked in more than 300,000 miles of testing. Google has added another car to its test program – the 2012 Lexus RX450h luxury crossover SUV.
Google plans on testing driverless cars in snow-covered roadways, temporary construction signals and other tricky situations that might come up for drivers, the company said. The RX450h has an optional electric all-wheel drive, which makes it a good choice for testing such road conditions.
Google dominates the search engine business, and has a few profitable side businesses like the Android phone software and cloud computing services. The question is: What is Google getting out of investing in driverless cars? And what about all the other non-search services it offers? You can use Google on your phone and find lots of useful content – driving directions with real-time traffic data, a directory of electric vehicle charging stations closest to you and an arial view of your neighborhood.
Perhaps it's necessary to stay on the edge of leading technologies – too keep your users loyal and your employees on board. Rolf Schreiber, technical program manager of electric transportation initiatives at Google, spoke on a panel last month at Plug-in 2012 in San Antonio, TX. He said that, at that time, Google had installed 387 Level 1 and 2 electric vehicle chargers on campus for Google employees, and has a few fast chargers in the business plan. The main reason for this investment? In order to get talented, hard-working technology specialists to come and work for you in a competitive marketplace like Silicon Valley, charging stations are an attractive perk to offer them.
Perhaps Google sees an important role to play in wireless communications, telematics and the future of transportation? Driverless cars might represent where automobiles are going, and it would be good for business to provide technologies connected to dashboards and smartphones. It also has to do with the company's sense of corporate responsibility. As a recent posting on the Google blog said, "Technology is at its best when it makes people's lives better, and that's precisely what we're going for with our self-driving car project. We're using advanced computer science to try and make driving safer and more enjoyable."