Yesterday’s news that Google had plans to take it to Uber in the form of a fleet of autonomous taxi-bots seems to have ruffled some feathers at the search giant – so much so that company insiders are starting to offer anonymous comments denying the rumors’ veracity.
A new report out of the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog cites an insider who claims that Google’s app – which yesterday was said to be a prototype for haling self-driving cabs – has been “blown out of proportion.”
“The person said a Google engineer has been testing an internal app that helps Google employees carpool to work,” the report explains, “and the app isn’t associated with the company’s driverless cars program.”
Meanwhile, Google’s Twitter account replied to Bloomberg’s report with this simple statement:
@business We think you’ll find Uber and Lyft work quite well. We use them all the time.
— Google (@google) February 2, 2015
Even still, despite Google’s veiled denials and report’s mention that Google exec David Drummond may not have been asked by Uber to leave its board of directors, there’s no denying the fact that Uber is looking to jump into autonomous cars with both feet. Uber officially announced its partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and its Robotics Lab yesterday, though it seems that the announcement came after TechCrunch initially reported the partnership.
According to the announcement:
“The partnership will provide a forum for Uber technology leaders to work closely with CMU faculty, staff, and students — both on campus and at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) — to do research and development, primarily in the areas of mapping and vehicle safety and autonomy technology.”
It’s difficult not to see this move as a way to catch up with Google. Moreover, it’s difficult to see Google’s self-driving car as anything but the first steps in building a taxi service. How else would a fleet of autonomous vehicles even work? Would people simply buy one and keep it charged in the garage? It makes much more sense from just about every standpoint for Google to own the fleet and offer them when they’re needed. That would remove sticky questions of personal liability for each person using one, and would give Google ultimate control over the cars themselves, further mitigating the chance of hijacking or hacking.
We’ll see how all this shakes out over the next few weeks, months, and probably even years. No matter what, though, my money’s still on Google.