Those automated cars that Google is building aren't anything new – in fact, Google Co-founder Larry Page almost chose to forgo web search and ranking to work on a Ph.D. project in automated cars.
Here's a little tidbit of information from a talk Page gave at a Faculty Summit in 2009. He told the audience that he had to choose from three different academic areas to focus his study at Stanford: Telepresence (Google has been working hard in this area and has a nice Google Talk client in Android Honeycomb), Automated cars – which he seems to have favored – and of course the "link structure of the web" – which eventually became PageRank and Google (goog). Though Page and Google CEO Eric Schmidt had been talking theoretically about driverless cars for years, no one expected it was a big Google Project until it was officially unveiled in October.
Terry Winograd, Page's advisor at Stanford, made a pretty important recommendation and told him to work on web search. The rest is history.
Three additional tidbits:<!-- more -->
- Google Books started with Page and a copier in his office.
- Similarly, Page tested the viability of Google Streetview driving around in his own car with a camera.
- Toward the end, you see Page starts to talk about the reasons for ChromeOS.
If you like this talk, there is a much longer video from 2007 where Page expands on automated driving here.