Google executive Anthony Levandowski went into the belly of the beast this week and stood tall, talking about his pet project.
No, he didn't visit his neighbors at Facebook headquarters and hold forth about some new algorithm. Levandowski, product manager for Google's "self-driving car," instead appeared before the biggest annual convention in Detroit each year, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and told them about how his company wants to turn the attendees' business upside down as Google has so many other industries.
"I think it's time for us to break that cycle and actually bring them to market sooner," he stated, referring to one significant obstacle to the autonomous auto: insurance coverage and costs. "I don't think we need to wait 10 years for the next model or body styles to come out and build this technology."
Of course, Silicon Valley and Detroit have been on each other's speed dials for decades because of how computerized the modern automobile has become. Recent new incursions by the masters of digital technology have included Microsoft's assistance to Ford in developing the Sync infotainment platform.
But Google is treading into entirely new territory by presuming to invade the existing auto industry with a viable driverless car, quietly announced in 2010 and recently touted with a video featuring a blind driver.
Auto brands themselves have been feverishly adding all sorts of automated safety features lately, from radar-assisted cruise control to rear-vision cameras to blind-spot sensors and adjustment systems that will nudge a car back into the proper lane if a driver drifts into an occupied one.
Many automakers have their own R&D efforts underway into automating the driving process to a much greater extent than it is already, a lot of it under the long-standing rubric of "vehicle-to-vehicle communications" that can help cars instantly communicate with one another to avoid accidents.
Whether Google is potentially more of a competitive threat in carrying such concepts to their logical conclusion, or more of a partner in such endeavors, is still very much up in the air as far as auto-industry participants are concerned.
Levandowski came bearing olive branches, he indicated, seeking partners to bring Google's technology to market within a decade. "We're talking to every car company to see what their level of excitement is," he said at the conference.
It's one thing to work with the digital juggernaut to incorporate Google's maps into an automotive navigation system, for example. But it's entirely another thing for any car brand to turn over the steering wheel.