Google has unveiled what it hopes will one day become the standard in automotive travel: a fully autonomous self-driving car. The sleek, gray podlike car—still just a prototype—has no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal. You simply plug in your destination, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
From Google's official press release:
We're now exploring what fully self-driving vehicles would look like by building some prototypes; they'll be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention. They won't have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal … because they don't need them. Our software and sensors do all the work. The vehicles will be very basic—we want to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible—but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button. And that's an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.
The car was built from scratch without using a preexisting model as the basis. Its main sensor has a full 360-degree view, allowing for more than 200 yards of visibility to track moving objects and obstacles. The driving program is designed to be on the safe and defensive side, avoiding larger vehicles and moving out of blind spots. Google's designers also accounted for the potential for accidents by granting the car moderate speed capability (currently a maximum of 25 mph) and making the frame more amenable to a collision. "We imagine at some point there will be an accident with one of these vehicles, so we've designed the front end to be soft," says project safety director Ron Medford. The car also features a redundant breaking system; if one fails, the other takes over.
Technically, the car isn't completely autonomous. It still relies on Google's map and road system, and all testing thus far has been monitored by two Google employees who can take control of the car at a moment's notice in the event of an emergency.
Even though the project is still years away from the market, Google has no intention of ever selling the vehicles. Instead, the prototypes (Google hopes to build 100 over the next two years) are meant to entice partners into the program that will take on manufacturing and marketing the vehicles.
Street testing will begin this summer in Mountain View, California, where the cars will interact with a live-fire environment, complete with clueless pedestrians, zipping cyclists, and twitchy lane-hoppers. It's hard to imagine it faring any worse than most teenagers behind the wheel.