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Google’s Driverless Car: What It Means to the Industry

For automotive service technicians, new advances in vehicle technology arrive with every model year. The next few years, however, may bring an entirely new facet to the industry: driverless technology.

Currently, Google is testing prototype driverless vehicles that can move passengers between locations without any user input. The entire automotive industry is watching these developments very closely.

One automotive technician compared his role to that of a doctor, but added that doctors only work on two models – and those two models have operated the same way for thousands of years. He noted the most-significant changes: electronic fuel injection, distributor-less ignition, anti-lock brakes and on-board diagnostics. While these changes have been gradual when viewed over time, they are dramatic when compared to a single generation ago. For technicians, they still amount to a new set of diagnostic and service procedures to learn with each new model year.

Now, Google brings an entirely new component to the equation – the driver is now integrated into the vehicle. This means that future service technicians must be able to diagnose and repair both the pilot and the vessel at once. That means cameras, sensors, sonar and radar as well as servos, motors and a brand-new generation of computers unlike anything found under the hood right now.

Google has been developing their concept for the driverless car for years. Right now, they have a fleet of approximately 100 prototype driverless cars. These electric-powered vehicles rely on user input simply to select a destination. Once the passenger has selected where they want to go, they remain hands-off for the duration of the journey.

These vehicles – comparable in size and scale to the Fiat 500 and Mercedes Smart Car – feature electronic sensors that can scan 360 degrees around the vehicle, out to a distance approaching 600 feet. Currently limited to a 25-mile-per-hour top speed, these vehicles are designed primarily for local, urban travel and are not capable of freeway travel. The company is currently testing these autonomous vehicles in California, predominantly as employee shuttles on their own corporate campus. As laws now stand, only two other states – Florida and Nevada – allow for such autonomous vehicles.

Technicians have long been familiar with computer-controlled or “drive-by-wire” systems that assist with acceleration, steering or braking. However, these systems all rely on input taken from an external decision-maker – namely, a human driver. What the new Google driverless vehicle does differently is remove that human driver from the equation altogether. Sensors scan the road, look for objects or pedestrians, and read map data. It then processes all of these sources of information and determines acceleration, steering or braking on its own.

For service and repair technicians, working on vehicles of this type would then require fundamental understanding of such technology as previously only found in the defense and aerospace industries: sonar, advanced motion-detection and radar.

For more automotive technology knowledge that today’s automotive-repair technicians learn to stay ahead of industry, check out our free eBook, Apple iCar: Apple’s Auto Industry Experiment.


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