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How Far Away Are We from Autonomous Cars?

The insurance industry is justifiably excited and nervous about Google dipping its toe into the cool water of the insurance industry. There are plenty of reasons why this should cause some concern for companies, particularly those who make their living in the world of personal lines.

But another announcement from Google makes me wonder if the landscape of business, the insurance business in particular, is going to change as quickly as many have speculated. Google recently announced it was pulling back from Google Glass, which would have increased the level of connectivity for its users through your eyeglasses.

What makes me cautious about Google and others right now is that if a product such as Google Glass hit a stumbling point, how is something more complicated, expensive, and dangerous—such as the Google driverless car—supposed to be just around the corner.

There is not much doubt that driverless cars will revolutionize both the auto industry and personal lines insurance someday. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google makes an excellent point about their value: "This has the power to change lives. Too many people are underserved by the current transport system. They are blind, or too young to drive, or too old, or intoxicated.”

As much as our lives have changed over the last decade thanks to technology, and no matter how noble the effort, I have to believe the technology needed to make these cars operate efficiently and safely is going to take quite a bit more time.

I’m sure there are dozens of questions we can ask about how successful such a change in transportation will be. But it seems we are putting a great deal of faith in a product based on the belief that technology, eventually, will allow us to do things we never imagined possible.

That’s a pleasant thought and one that has been based in reality for quite a few years now, particularly in the communications industry. You could stage a lively debate over whether Google Glass was really a failure, or whether someone else will take up the mantle, but it should remind us that the market was not ready for Google Glass—at least not yet—so what makes us believe the market is ready for what will certainly be an expensive car that you don’t even get to drive?

I’m quite certain my view on this will be proven wrong someday, but how far away we are from that date is not going to be easily determined. 

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