After several years of exploring self-driving technology, Google has revealed its own prototype vehicle, which has no need of a steering wheel or accelerator pedal.
Google has been testing its self-driving systems in Lexus SUVs, but Sergey Brin said the company decided to change gears after some experiments, which convinced engineers that it wasn’t practical to expect a human passenger, who might be reading or even sleeping, to take the controls in an emergency.
Visually, the unnamed vehicle is exactly the sort of cute little car that EV skeptics love to laugh at. The Washington Post insisted that it “looks like a golf cart wearing a silly hat.” In fact, it doesn’t look remotely like any golf cart that we’ve ever seen – more like one of the bouncy little jalopies in an old Robert Crumb comic strip.
Few details were released about the car’s electric drivetrain, but Christopher Urmson, Director of Google’s Self-driving Cars, told the New York Times that it will have a range of about 100 miles, with a motor roughly equivalent to that of a Fiat 500e.
Said Google in a blog post: “It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, ‘What should be different about this kind of vehicle?’ We started with the most important thing: safety. They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections. And we’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph. 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.”
Google plans to have 100 prototype cars built by an undisclosed manufacturer in the Detroit area, to start testing later this summer, and to run a small pilot program in California “in the next couple of years.”