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Thursday, May 29, 2014

The First Driverless Cars Will Be Electric, Thanks to Google & Tesla, And That’s Important

As reported by GigaOmMentioned very briefly, and with far less emphasis than the many descriptions of the tiny size of Google’s new driverless car, is that Google’s new experimental fleet of robotic cars are electric.

That’s important because as one of the leaders of developing the software and artificial intelligence that will move autonomous cars through the streets, Google is now also helping set the path for the hardware of the future industry, and it’s skewing that path toward electric vehicles.  

Google has a long history of tinkering with electric cars. They built up a large fleet of plug-in cars for Google employees to use years ago. The program was called theRechargeIT Initiative and was funded with $10 million. I met one of the leaders of that group at an event over six years ago. Today if you go walk around Google’s campus it’s got one of the largest employee fleets of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars out there.
Google self-driving car
We already knew that Google was interested in exploring pairing autonomous cars with electric cars. I had heard that Google and Tesla were collaborating on some kind of tech around EVs and robotic cars awhile  back, and both Google and Tesla have confirmed that they’d had discussions, though there were no concrete plans here. The leaders of both companies have big-picture end games to make transportation more sustainable in general. I asked Tesla if they had contributed any work to Google’s recently announced robotic car fleet, and I’ll update this when I hear back.
Electric car company Tesla has also maintained that it wants to do its own autonomous car technology for its cars perhaps by 2016. The first driverless tech in a Tesla car will likely be a mode that is like a very good cruise control — picture auto pilot in a plane. But Tesla’s entire goal is to make its cars cheaper, so likely it would need to build its own system that is much less expensive than the current Google one.
Tesla's Garden State Plaza store in New Jersey
That the two most important companies building autonomous car tech will implement their products in electric cars is a big step for the future of personal transportation and an early important market for getting the next generation of cars off of using oil for a fuel. Will robot cars help push electric cars out there, or vice a versa? I can envision both.
It also just makes sense from a technology perspective. Internal-combustion cars, which have a lot of moving parts and create a lot of heat waste, are far more complex than electric cars. Electric cars are like large gadgets, that (obviously) run on electricity, making them a more natural fit with an all-computer powered car. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even called the internal combustion engine a ridiculous way to make a car at an event recently.