"The most important thing computers can do in the next 10 years is drive a car," Google project manager Anthony Levandowski told a crowd of several hundred engineers Wednesday at the SAE World Congress in Detroit.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google could make an announcement as early as next year on when it might offer the self-driving technology, he said.
Levandowsi told reporters after his speech that Google is in talks with major automakers.
Google is also talking to suppliers to find "partners that want to work with us."
"All options are open. From giving the technology away to licensing it to working with Tier 1s, Tier 2s, working with the OEMs, building a car with them, everything is open and we're trying to figure out which paths make the most sense," Levandowski said. "We're talking to basically every car company to see what their level of excitement is and how do we work with them."
Automakers "understand it is happening and they want to play a role in that. Not everyone is excited to be first. Some of them are and we want to work with the ones that want to be first."
The company is moving ahead, meeting with insurance companies as part of a multi-pronged effort to make computer-driven cars a reality.
Google says it is not clear if the search engine would have to provide some insurance to early drivers using the system.
He said that Google wouldn't wait for a recall requested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make fixes. Levandowski noted that Google would have the power to deactivate its self-driving system remotely — something it could do if any safety issue arose. "We could control where and when it works," Levandowski said.
The company has logged more than 250,000 miles in a fleet of about 10 self-driving cars — but wants to log at least 1 million miles before it offers the technology to the general public.
"We're probably going to put more miles on this technology than any car that was ever released. They don't put 5 million miles on cars before they launch them," Levandowski, saying Google will put a million plus miles on the vehicles.
Many people have raised liability concerns about what happens if a driverless car caused a crash.
Google plans to expand its testing fleet to several dozen — and initially to a small fleet similar to the size of General Motors Corp.'s EV1 program.
Even when semi-autonomous driving capability is available on vehicles, the system will have operational limitations based on external factors such as weather and visibility of lane markings. When reliable data is unavailable, the driver will need to steer.
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