Company plans to build 100 prototype 2-seater EVs that ‘take you where you want to go at the push of a button.’
This week, Google pulled the wraps off its prototype of a fully-autonomous vehicle — a car without a steering wheel, gas or brake pedals.
Chris Urmson, director of the Google’s self-driving car project, said in a blog post that the 100 prototypes the company intends to build won’t have these critical parts “because they don’t need them” and that “software and sensors do all the work” and can “take you where you want to go at the push of a button.”
The prototype that Google revealed in photos and showed ferrying passengers in an online video is shaped somewhat like a Volkswagen Beetle and has two seats, “space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route — and that’s about it,” Google said in press materials that accompanied the announcement.
The electric-only car has a top speed of 25 mph, although a range wasn’t provided. The exterior of the prototypes will have pedestrian protection that includes a “flexible windscreen and front made of a foamlike material,” but no airbags inside for occupants since the vehicle wouldn’t “be operating in a high-speed environment,” according to Ron Medford, director of safety for the self-driving car project.
As with Google’s previous self-driving vehicles that were based on production models from Toyota and Lexus, the prototypes will use lidar and radar sensors to detect objects such as cars, cyclists and pedestrians up to 200 yards ahead. Proprietary software will process information from the sensors to “drive from point A to point B without requiring any driver intervention,” Google added.
By building its own cars, Google said it will have “the extra benefit of sensors that have been built and put in the best place for self-driving, rather than bolted on wherever they happen to fit.” In a phone call with media on Wednesday, Urmson said that putting “sensors onto [existing] vehicles was probably not the right solution, and that if we were going for a fully self-driving vehicle, there was an opportunity to revisit what that vehicle should be.”
Urmson added that Google is trying to partner with other companies in the auto industry to bring together the best of both worlds in software and hardware, but he didn’t name companies or the people involved. He said Google plans to begin testing the prototype on closed areas this summer and on public roads later this year. This will be followed by a pilot project in California, and Urmson added that the company is “hoping in the next couple of years to open it up to the public.”
Google maintains it has no immediate plans to sell the cars. “The vehicles we’re developing are very much prototypes that allow us to not only learn as much as possible about the technology,” said Urmson, “but also how these vehicles can be used.”
Google sent shock waves through the automotive world after revealing in 2010 that it had already covered nearly 150,000 miles in a fleet of self-driving Toyota Priuses and had perfected sensors and software that allowed it to accomplish this feat.
Automakers first responded by pointing out that they had been developing autonomous-car technology for decades — and then immediately accelerated their own their own self-driving projects.
Several automakers have since said they’ll have autonomous cars for sale by 2020, and Google indicated that it’s interested in working with car companies to bring self-driving vehicles to market, but not necessarily build them.