Google Demonstrates Self-Driving Car Prototypes

Tech giant Google is working on pod-like self-driving cars that don’t have any standard driving controls. After experimenting with retrofitted road cars, primarily the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450h, Google will now test special cars developed from the ground up.

The prototypes continue Google’s goal of developing a commercially viable autonomous car. The small, pod-shaped vehicles have a rotating scanner system atop the roof to measure the car’s surroundings, while inside there are two seats but no physical controls. Instead of a steering wheel and pedals, occupants use just, a start button, an emergency-stop button, and a screen displaying the car’s intended route. For now, the vehicles are limited to just 25 mph and are intended for urban use only.

Drivers could use a smartphone app to “call” the Google autonomous car, meaning they wouldn’t have to park it at either end of the journey. The car would work more like a taxi service; Google touts the ability of this car to serve young, elderly, and disabled people who otherwise cannot drive themselves.

According to The New York Times, California law requires the prototype cars to have rear-view mirrors, even though the human occupants can’t steer it. Google will reportedly contract with a company in the Detroit, Michigan, area to build the cars, but the name of the company has not been named.

Google plans to build 100 prototype versions of these self-driving cars for company drivers to test this summer. Over the next few years, Google hopes to test the autonomous vehicles on a more widespread scale, potentially further paving the way for a mainstream, commercially available self-driving car.

Google isn’t the only company developing this technology. Lexus has shown an autonomous version of the LS luxury sedan, Nissan says it will sell a self-driving car by 2020, Volvo hopes to test autonomous vehicles on Swedish streets by 2017, Mercedes-Benz is testing the fully-autonomous S-Class Intelligent Drive, and Ford has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University to build a self-driving Fusion sedan.