On Tuesday, Google debuted their latest and most technologically advanced self-driving car. This, of course, is another step forward in an ongoing project that was started back in 2008 and has featured other prototypes that were built using Lexus and Toyota prototypes.
This latest version of Google’s vision, however, is the first truly driverless electric car, and it’s the first vehicle to be built with no steering wheel, accelerator, or gas pedal.
To summon the two-seater car, passengers just need to use their smart phone and the vehicle will pick them up and drop them off at certain designated locations. Inside of the vehicle, there are no manual controls, just a simple start button and a big red emergency stop button. Alongside these buttons, there is a small screen that showcases the weather, the current driving speed, and a small animated launch countdown.
In an official blog post released by Google, the company tells us why everything is so minimalistic; “On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts.” That’s no surprise. After all, this is just an initial building block.
But how does this thing work?
Well, the car uses a combination of sensors, software, and highly accurate digital maps to navigate in real world locations. To deal with immediate situations, the car also has a series of lasers, cameras, and a single point radar system to monitor everything in the immediate vicinity.
According to Google, their software is capable of recognizing and navigating around objects, people, cars, road marking, signs, traffic lights, unpredictable hazards, and even cyclists.
It is by far the best and safest version of an autonomous car in history.
As far as performance goes, though, don’t expect too much, not yet anyway. This latest vehicle travels at an anemic top speed of 25 miles per hour. But Google says that this is an intentional limitation: “We started with the most important thing: safety. We’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph.”
Once safety is secured, the company plans to slowly develop the vehicle into something that can last. In fact, they hope to have evolved versions of these prototypes by the end of the decade.
Google says, “We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles 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. We’re going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we’ll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely.”