Google is has revealed the first prototype of its self-driving cars – with no steering wheel, acceleration pedal, or brake.
Previously, the internet giant has adapted adapting existing car models with its self-driving technology, and has driven hundreds of thousands of miles on public roads using Lexus SUVs and Toyota Prius models fitted with special equipment.
But now the firm plans to make 100 prototype cars that drive themselves, operated using two simple buttons – go and stop – and navigate using GPS, sensors and camera data.
The car can be summoned with a smartphone application. It will then pick up a passenger and automatically drive to a destination selected on a smartphone app without any human intervention.
Watch the promo video here:
In an interview at Google’s headquarters, Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, said the company decided to change the car project more than a year ago after an experiment in which Google employees used autonomous vehicles for their normal commutes to work.
There were no crashes, but Google engineers realised that asking a human passenger — who could be reading or daydreaming or even sleeping — to take over in an emergency won’t work.
“We saw stuff that made us a little nervous,” said Christopher Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist who directs the car project at Google.
The vehicles will have electronic sensors that can see about 600 feet in all directions. Despite that, they will have rear-view mirrors because they are required by California’s vehicle code, Dr Urmson said. The front of the car will be made from a foamlike material in case the computer fails and it hits a pedestrian.
Safety top priority
Google said it is unlikely to move into large-scale car manufacturing, and instead plans to work with other companies to “bring this technology into the world safely” if the prototypes are successful.
Sergey Brin said: “The main reason we wanted to develop this prototype vehicle is that we can do a better job than we can do with an existing vehicle. The experience feels different. You’re just sitting there, no steering wheel, no pedals – for me it was very relaxing. In about 10 seconds after getting in, I forgot I was there. It reminded me of catching a chairlift by yourself, a bit of solitude I found really enjoyable.”
In a blog post, Google said that by building its own car it could star with a “blank sheet of paper”.
“We started with the most important thing: safety. (The prototypes) have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions. This is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections.”
“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. 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.”
It looks like a little bubble car from the future, streamlined to run by itself, a big change from the boxy Lexus SUV Google has been retrofitting the last few years with self-driving technology.
The new Google strategy for autonomous cars is a break from many competing vehicle projects. Mercedes, BMW and Volvo have introduced cars that have the ability to travel without driver intervention in limited circumstances, though none completely eliminate the driver.
That feature, which is generally known as Traffic Jam Assist, allows the car to steer and follow another vehicle in stop-and-go highway driving at low speeds. In the Mercedes version, the system disengages itself if the driver takes his hands off the steering wheel for more than 10 seconds.
Watch this video explaining Google’s goals here:
Read the official blog here