Google Seeks Partners for Self Driving Cars

  • Updated April 26, 2012, 8:32 a.m. ET
  • Google Seeks Partners for Its Autos

    DETROIT???The leader of Google Inc.'s GOOG -2.17%effort to develop self-driving cars was in the Motor City on Wednesday to send a message that the Internet company is looking for partners to bring its innovations to market within the next decade.

    Joe White on Lunch Break points out a few things to know about how car makers could take more of the task of driving out of a motorist's hands. Photo: Mike Sudal.

    "We're talking to every car company to see what their level of excitement is," said Anthony Levandowski, head of Google's project to develop software and sensors to allow vehicles to drive themselves. Mr. Levandowski spoke at the Society of Automotive Engineers conference here.

    Google still needs to do "millions of miles" of testing before it is ready to offer a self driving car system for sale, Mr. Levandowski said. It also is discussing with insurers how to address the liability issues raised by self driving cars. But he said he expects a system could be ready "much sooner than the next decade. If not, shame on us as engineers."

    Google hasn't decided how it could market a self-driving car system, he said. While the main challenges relate to software, he said, there are hardware issues, such as the cost and reliability of sensors to detect hazards around the car.

    Annie Tritt for The Wall Street Journal

    One of Google's self-driving cars in Mountain View, Calif., this month.

    Among the options, he said, are partnerships with auto makers, offering systems as aftermarket installations, or possibly giving self driving technology away free as a way to drive use of other Google services. "I'm not suggesting we're going to do that," he added.

    Big auto makers and some of their traditional technology suppliers are already working on their own approaches to automating some share of routine driving. It isn't clear how interested the automotive establishment is in Google's approach.

    But Google is devoting significant resources of both money and talent to the challenge, and has some relationships with auto makers that are using other Google technology such as its mapping systems.

    Responding to a question about liability should a self driving system fail, Mr. Levandowski said exactly how to assure that a driver gets timely warning of a system malfunction is one issue Google still needs to resolve. "We're going to stand behind our software," he said.

    Write to Joseph B. White at

    A version of this article appeared April 26, 2012, on page B4 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Google Seeks Partners for Its Autos.

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