Search-engine giant Google Inc. thinks self-driving cars can be on U.S. roads in the next few years and is in talks with automakers to roll out the cutting-edge technology.
"The most important thing computers can do in the next 10 years is drive a car," Anthony Levandowski, Google's driver-less car project manager, told a crowd of several hundred engineers Wednesday at the SAE World Congress in Detroit.
Google, he said, is eager to see self-driving vehicles on the nation's roads, and the company could make an announcement about the technology as early as next year.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company could partner with one automaker to offer the technology or it could retrofit a small fleet of vehicles. "We don't want to make cars. That's not our interest," Levandowski said.
Google is in talks with major automakers, Levandowsi told reporters after his speech.
Automakers "understand it is happening and they want to play a role in that," he said.
In developing a self-driving vehicle, the company aims to reduce traffic deaths — Google noted that 90 percent of all crashes are caused by human error.
Car crashes account for nearly $200 billion in annual societal costs and more than 32,000 deaths; they're the leading cause of death for people ages 5-34.
"We don't know what it's going to take to show it's safer than a driver," Levandowski said, but he predicted: "It's much sooner than the next decade."
Last month, a blind driver named Steve Mahan was the first to use a self-driving car from Google — and he made a stop to get a taco. "How do we treat those in our society that need our help the most," Levandowski said.
Will the human driver be phased out entirely one day?