The Sunday Times breathlessly revealed that Google is petitioning the California State government to allow the testing of autonomous motorcycles on public roads. That's not quite right. Here's why.
Back in January, Google – along with several other interested parties – sent letters to the DMV regarding the final regulatory text that will govern autonomous vehicle testing.
In that letter, Google took issue with certain restrictions outlined in the text, specifically when it came to limiting what vehicles could be used for testing.
The Sunday Times cherry picked a line from the email by Ron Medford, Google's director of safety for its self-driving car program, that – out of context – would indicate the Google is planning a whole slew of autonomous vehicles, including motorcycles and commercial vehicles. However, read the full text and it's clear that Google simply doesn't want the DMV to impose restrictions that limits testing only to passenger cars. Here's Medford's comments, in full:
Although Google is not currently testing any of these vehicles excluded under this section, we believe that the section should be deleted in its entirety, as any such exclusion unnecessarily restricts future innovation. It is certainly possible that future testing could include motorcycles or larger commercial vehicles. If some innovator can demonstrate that testing autonomous technology on such vehicles is safe, then they should be allowed to test. The DMV should not preemptively foreclose potential avenues of an evolving technology, but should instead review every testing permit application on its own merits.
Basically, Google doesn't want overarching restrictions on the type of vehicles being tested with autonomous capabilities, because who knows what the future holds and how long these regulations will stand unchanged.
However, there's still a chance that Google could work on some kind of self-driving two-wheeler in the future.
In 2007 Google hired Anthony Levandowski, one of the team members that helped create the autonomous Ghostrider motorcycle for the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge. It was impressive at the time, but like the majority of the competitors, it didn't fare too well. But that was a decade ago, and Levandowski has some serious resources at his disposal. Here's his previous work: