Google cracks down on shooter of self-driving minivan photos

Standing in a Google employee parking lot, innovation consultant Mario Herger could see inside a fenced-off garage holding a number of Google’s self-driving cars. Herger was looking at the cars because he’s writing a book about self-driving vehicles. Then he noticed something unusual, he said, beyond the Lexus SUVs and prototype cars he’d expected to see: minivans.

These were no ordinary minivans, as the self-driving-vehicle sensors installed on them showed.

Herger, CEO of boutique innovation consultancy Enterprise Garage, was apparently viewing Google’s next step in fully autonomous vehicles, the fruits of a partnership with Fiat Chrysler announced in May.

Herger shot photos, and posted them on the Enterprise Garage blog. Two hours later, he said, he heard from Google by email. The company said he’d had no authorization to be on Google property, from which he’d taken the photos, and demanded he take down his post and the photos.

“Though I have not climbed any fences, broken into buildings, or saw any No Trespassing sign, I was on their property,” Herger told SiliconBeat. “So I complied.”

Herger’s book on self-driving vehicles is to be published in German, then English.

Herger had given website Electrek permission to publish the photos, so the images remained online after he took down his blog post. Electrek agreed to allow SiliconBeat to publish from among the photos on its site.

In May, Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced a partnership to equip 100 Chrysler “Pacifica” minivans with self-driving technology.

“The first six minivans arrived at one of Google’s facilities in Mountain View and the company already equipped two of them with sensor suites and installed mounting systems on others,” said an Electrek article Sunday.

Google is reportedly expanding a carpooling service widely believed to be an attempt to go after Uber’s market — self-driving minivans could fit well with that business model in the future.

Google, in an email, called the report by Electrek “inaccurate,” but did not specify in what way the company believes it to be wrong.

Google is currently testing its fleet of 24 Lexus SUVs and 34 bubble-like prototype cars, both of which are regularly seen — with drivers on standby ready to take over — on Bay Area public roads. The company’s September report noted that its cars had collectively passed the two-million-mile mark while in autonomous mode.



Photo: Purported Google self-driving minivans in Mountain View (courtesy of Electrek)


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