Google Seeks Co-Pilots for Self-Driving Car

The leader of Google Inc.'s effort to develop self-driving cars was in the Motor City Wednesday to send a message that the internet company is looking for partners to bring its innovations to market within the next decade.

"We're talking to every car company to see what their level of excitement is," said Anthony Levandowski, head of Google's project to develop software and sensors to allow vehicles to drive themselves. Levandowski spoke at the Society of Automotive Engineers conference in Detroit.

Google still needs to do "millions of miles" of testing before it is ready to offer a self-driving car system for sale, Levandowski said. It also is discussing with insurers how to address the liability issues raised by self-driving cars. But he said he expects a system could be ready "much sooner than the next decade. If not, shame on us as engineers."

Google hasn't decided how it could market a self-driving car system, he said. While the main challenges relate to software, he said, there are hardware issues, such as the cost and reliability of sensors to detect hazards around the car.

Among the options, he said, are partnerships with automakers, offering systems as aftermarket installations, or possibly giving self-driving technology away free as a way to drive use of other Google services. "I'm not suggesting we're going to do that," he added.

Big automakers and some of their traditional technology suppliers are already working on their own approaches to automating some share of routine driving. It isn't clear how interested the automotive establishment is in Google's approach.

But Google is devoting significant resources of both money and talent to the challenge and has some relationships with automakers that are using other Google technology, such as its mapping systems.