Google Inc Takes the Wheel in $11 Million Industry

googleLast week, Google Inc(NASDAQ:GOOG) revealed its plan to deploy a fleet of 100 prototype two-seater, automated vehicles that transport passengers without them ever needing to touch a steering wheel or gas pedal (of course, it helps that Google’s cars don’t have either accessory).

Even though the test coupes will be limited to a top speed of 25 miles per hour, Google execs are having a hard time containing enthusiasm.

“Ever since we started the Google self-driving car project, we’ve been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving,” the company says, in an accompanying press release. “They will take you where you want to go at the push of a button.”

The idea of self-driving vehicles is gaining popularity among consumers, who see a void that needs to be filled. And that means there will be a growing number of possibilities for investment.

A Wild Ride for Automation

In January, industry experts with the RAND Corporation agreed that the benefits of automated car travel – such as the potential for reduced pollution and crashes, and increased energy efficiency stemming from smoother traffic flow – sufficiently outweigh the risks.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 448,000 crashes in 2009 were a direct result of distracted driving – one of the unfortunate human factors Google hopes to eliminate with its tiny fleet of proto-chauffeurs.

And it looks like it’s working out well – for proof, the RAND Corporation cited that no accidents occurred among Google’s previous automatons, even after logging more than 500,000 miles on public roads.

As a result, insurance rates could take a nosedive, with alcohol- and fatigue-related crashes becoming a thing of the past (former drivers could even take naps behind the nonwheel); a fact Google project leader Chris Urmson noted at a conference in late April.

“People will be able to get dropped off at the restaurant, enjoy their time, have a drink or two, and get a ride home safely,” he said.

Who’s Serious About Investing

A handful of automakers are recognizing the possibility of automated driving,


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