"When someone first hears about the idea of self-driving cars it comes across as alien or smoke-and-mirrors," said Chris Urmson, Google X Director of Self-Driving Cars. "Within about five minutes of riding in one, they're in the back on the cell phone."
Urmson said Google has done some studies that show "the first five minutes is a little tense" in a self-driving car.
But at 15 minutes, the riders typically say "it drives better than me," Urmson told a Senate panel.
He added: People "will appreciate the value."
Google has been testing its self-driving vehicles on California's public roads for over seven years and recently expanded testing to parts of Austin, Texas and Kirkland, Washington. So far, the tech giant said its self-driving cars have logged over 1.4 million miles in autonomous mode or the equivalent of 108 years on the road, based on a typical American adult driving about 13,000 miles per year.
Mike Ableson, GM's vice president of strategy and global portfolio planning, told lawmakers the biggest challenge is getting "the technology exposed" to consumers.
"People don't need to purchase an autonomous vehicle to get their first experience," Ableson said.
Instead, GM intends to deploy its self-driving cars through ride-sharing programs.
"They can experience the technology without having to spend the money," Ableson said.
When asked about pricing, Ableson said: "Autonomous technologies will be very expensive because you need an array of sensing technology and computing power onboard. It's hard for me to predict what they will cost."
In response to questions about cybersecurity and self-driving cars, Ableson said GM has set up a cybersecurity organization inside of the company that includes a "red team." That team is tasked with pointing out vulnerabilities in vehicles and reports to the CEO and the GM board on these matters.
Panelists told the Senate committee that self-driving cars have the potential to reduce traffic deaths, road congestion and pollution. Self-driving cars can eliminate human error, including intoxication and driver distraction, proponents say.
But Duke University Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics Director Mary Cummings warned lawmakers that there may be dangers ahead.
"There's no question that someone is going to die in this technology," Cummings said. "The question is when. We are strong advocates. But a death could set back the integration of this technology."
"We're going to have to be careful how we set up that human interaction," she said.
Google and others are pushing for a national policy governing the deployment of self-driving cars.
Such a policy would prevent what Urmson called a "growing patchwork of state laws and regulations on self-driving cars."
"If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder safety innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles," Urmson said in written testimony.
Urmson also warned, "Europe, China and Japan are hot on our heels."
"Technology is advancing at an incredible rate," he said. "We need to see the economic benefits in America first."
Edmunds says: There are speed bumps on the road to self-driving cars, as this hearing illustrated.