Automation vs. Immigration: Google Self-Driving Cars Face Competition in Concept
August 28, 2016, 12:46 PM
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The front page of Saturday’s San Jose Mercury News had a headline: “For Google, race is on with self-driving cars.”

The game has changed with so many players on the field, as various companies have made their intentions known to build a self-driving car. Google self-driving vehicles have been designed as being totally driver-free, as can be seen by the lack of a steering wheel. Meanwhile, some companies have marketed their advanced cruise control as “self-driving” as one did with deadly results: Tesla advertised its system as “Autopilot” which led to the death of a Florida man who thought the technology functioned as described.

Interestingly, a Rasmussen poll from a couple months ago found that 52 percent of voters think robot cars will make the roads less safe, but business sees an automated future and believes public opinion can be readjusted.

As the Mercury reports, the pressure of suddenly facing so many competitors has forced the Google car company to step up its game.

As usual, there is no mention of the effect to society of gutting a major sector of the jobs economy, namely driving. More than three million Americans make their living by driving delivery vans, taxis, buses and 18-wheelers, but they are little discussed by the press when presenting its techno-news about automation.

And given the shrinking employment universe caused by technology, it makes no sense for the government to continue importing foreign workers under its anti-American immigration policies to fill jobs that no longer exist:

Automation makes immigration obsolete.
San Jose, of course, is at the heart of Silicon Valley and the major newspaper essentially serves the industry.
Google’s rivals in self-driving cars may force it into hard choice, San Jose Mercury News, August 26, 2016

MOUNTAIN VIEW — The sudden acceleration in deployment of self-driving technology could confront Google with a choice: stick to its fundamental plan to develop fully autonomous vehicles or downshift to join rivals who are poised to put less-advanced semi-autonomous cars on the road first.

Amid a blitz of progress announcements this month from robot-car firms that could beat Google to commercial success, the Mountain View tech titan on Friday confirmed it has hired a new head of its self-driving program who is known for steering the successful expansion of Airbnb into a new market.

“At some point the rubber has to hit the road,” said Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor Raj Rajkumar, whose work is focused on self-driving cars. “My understanding is they’ve spent several hundreds of millions of dollars on this project, and that they’re still spending $100 million a year. As far as I know there’s not a single penny of revenue. With the new Airbnb executive, they have to look at what are the opportunities for monetizing.”

But while Google has adhered to a belief that self-driving cars should only go to market when the need for human intervention has been eliminated — a step many experts believe is years away — the firm’s rivals are already putting out self-driving systems that stop short of full autonomy but take much of the work out of driving.

Tesla and other carmakers, including Honda, BMW, Volvo and Mercedes, are introducing cars with semi-autonomous features such as emergency braking, lane keeping and collision avoidance.

Other companies are rushing to put fully autonomous vehicles to work, even if humans are still needed as backup. Last week, Uber announced it would start testing 100 self-driving, ride-hailing cars with human drivers prepared to take over in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this month. This week, self-driving software firm nuTonomy started a pilot “robo-taxi” project in Singapore deploying self-driving cars, also with people on board ready to assume control, and automotive suppliers Delphi Automotive and Israeli startup Mobileye announced a partnership to build self-driving systems that carmakers could put in their vehicles by the end of 2019.

Earlier this month, Ford said it was doubling in size its 130-member Silicon Valley self-driving car team and adding two new buildings to meet its target of selling fully autonomous vehicles by 2021. In May, General Motors and ride-hailing firm Lyft said they would begin testing self-driving electric taxis on public roads by year’s end.

But not all has gone smoothly for self-driving technology. Tesla’s “Autopilot” mode showcases the value of the incremental approach — and the perils. The technology is considered road ready by regulators and has helped the firm successfully market its pricey electric vehicles. However, the death earlier this year of a driver who failed to intervene when the Autopilot system in his Tesla missed seeing a truck in its path, shows exactly what Google has been hoping to avoid by pushing for full automation instead of a step-by-step process.

“This has been the debate roiling the community,” Rajkumar said.

But now, with competitors racing for market share, Google must decide whether to hang onto full autonomy, which Rajkumar believes is at least a decade away. Within Google, debates over the self-driving car program are bound to focus on whether to pivot toward an incremental approach to autonomy, Rajkumar believes.

Google declined to comment.

With new disruptions in the self-driving car industry erupting virtually every week, and turmoil within the Google robot-car program — chief technology officer Chris Urmson quit earlier this month, following at least two engineers out the door — the company has brought in former Airbnb executive Shaun Stewart as director of the program. Stewart had been hired at Airbnb from TripAdvisor in 2014, to expand Airbnb’s reach to vacation rentals from urban home and room rentals.

“I see a lot of parallels,” said Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at travel industry research firm Phocuswright. “His job was to basically commercialize Airbnb for the vacation-rental world. Airbnb is a company that is very disruptive. He’s proved to be a pretty capable bridge to build inroads for Airbnb into what should be a pretty significant market opportunity.”

Although Google hasn’t revealed what, exactly, will be Stewart’s primary goals, he has shown an ability to build relationships with partner organizations and technology companies that were important to Airbnb’s success in breaking into the vacation rentals market, Quinby said.

“Shaun is certainly an interesting choice,” Quinby said. “He’s shown he can certainly do it through travel.”