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Tesla in talks with Google about 'self-driving' cars

But experts warn that one accident would shut the technology down, noting people 'won't accept machines killing human beings'

  • Tesla in talks with Google

Is the future driverless? Elon Musk, the California billionaire who leads Tesla Motors Inc., thinks so.

Musk said the electric-car maker is considering adding driverless technology to its vehicles and is discussing the prospects for such systems with Google Inc., long a proponent of driverless cars.

Musk, 41, said technologies that can take over for drivers are a logical step in the evolution of cars. He has talked with Google about the self-driving technology it’s been developing, though he prefers to think of applications that are more like an airplane’s autopilot system.

“I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self-driving,” Musk said in an interview. “Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”

Musk is on to something with the negative connotation of the word “self-driving.” And “driverless” comes with even more baggage.

Because when a driverless car inevitably crashes, and it will — all the goodwill the company has built up could be lost, experts warned Tuesday at an event discussing the future of unmanned vehicles in the United States.

Michael Toscano, head of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, was quoted in the “But when a driverless car inevitably crashes, and it will—all the good will the company has built up could be lost, experts warned Tuesday at an event discussing the future of unmanned vehicles in the United States. “There’s been all this public outcry about [drones], but the Google car has slipped in under the radar,” Missy Cummings, a former fighter pilot turned MIT drone researcher said Tuesday. “You’re more likely to be run over by the Google car far before a [drone] would ever fall on your head.” U.S. News and World Report as saying that driverless cars won’t get the forgiveness we give humans in the event of a fatal accident.

“We accept humans to be faulty, but we don’t accept machines killing human beings,” Toscano said.

Related: You know who else thinks driverless cars are interesting? Audi

Regulators and long-established automakers continue to grapple with when and how driverless technology can be used to increase safety and driver convenience. Global automakers such as Nissan Motor Co. and government officials say fully autonomous vehicles may not reach dealer showrooms for a decade, twice as long as Google expects.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both investors in Tesla before its 2010 initial public offering, have been proponents, with their Mountain View, California-based company demonstrating a driverless fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids equipped with laser-radar devices mounted on the roofs.

Over several hundred thousand hours of testing, the car has yet to crash while in automated mode.  (It did have one accident while a human driver was operating it, the company says).

‘Too Expensive’

Google’s approach builds on a push for the driverless-car technology long pursued by the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which held vehicle competitions for carmakers and research labs. Anthony Levandowski, product manager for Google’s self-driving car project, has said the company expects to release the technology within five years.

“The problem with Google’s current approach is that the sensor system is too expensive,” Musk said. “It’s better to have an optical system, basically cameras with software that is able to figure out what’s going on just by looking at things.”

Musk is determined to bring the cost of Tesla’s cars down so that the company can sell to mainstream consumers. Tesla’s Model S sedan has a $69,900 base price, and Musk says the company still intends to squeeze expenses to offer a model for about $30,000 within a few years. The Roadster, the company’s first offering, started at $109,000.

Tesla reported its first profit from sales of all-electric Model S sedans  on Wednesday.

With files from U.S. News and World Report

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