Google this week showed off a prototype of a self-driving car that the search giant created itself.
The small, Volkswagen Bug-esque vehicle does not have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal, “because they don’t need them,” Google said in a blog post. Just get in, and Google’s car will take you to your destination with the push of a button.
“Ever since we started the Google self-driving car project, we’ve been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving,” wrote Chris Urmson, director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project. “Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.”
Google plans to build about 100 prototypes, and this summer, it will test early versions of these cars that have manual controls.
“If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years,” Urmson said.
On the safety front, Google pointed to sensors that remove blind spots, and can detect objects up to two football fields away in all directions. Right now, the cars also don’t go more than 25 mph, so Google’s vehicle doesn’t exactly have a lead foot.
“On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route—and that’s about it,” Urmson wrote.
News of Google making its own self-driving car emerged last summer, when The Information’s Amir Efrati reported that Google had talked with “contract manufacturers” to build a self-driving car. Efrati said Google failed to reach a deal with a major auto maker, so it pursued its own vehicle.
On Twitter, Efrati said last night that “one person on the Google car project told me last year that some [people] on the project believed that the traditional auto makers would win. But that they were happy they lit a fire under Detroit’s arse and were pushing the industry forward. So didn’t matter who won.”
Google has largely been relying on a tricked-out Toyota Prius (see above) to test its self-driving car technology. In fact, it recently announced that it had logged 700,000 autonomous miles of testing.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles approved new rules for autonomous vehicle testing in the state. Come Sept. 16, companies will be able to start testing self-driving vehicles on the open road, provided they have a trained driver behind the wheel, ready to take over in the event of a malfunction, and at least $5 million worth of liability insurance.
Google is not the only company pursuing self-driving cars, though. Car makers like Audi, Mercedes, Nissan, and Toyota have autonomous vehicles in the works. Recently, Freescale Semiconductor announced a multi-year collaboration with Neusoft and Green Hills Software to develop a platform that will usher in semi-autonomous vehicles as early as 2017 and pave the way for fully automated cars, trucks, and buses within the next decade.
For more, check out PCMag’s Doug Newcomb’s test drive in Volvo’s self-driving car. Also watch PCMag Live in the video below, which discusses Google’s autonomous vehicle.
Source: The Guardian