If you thought the concept of Self-driving car is cool or creepy, then wait to see this latest prototype car from Google. It looks like a toy car, but can drive people around without a steering wheel or pedals. That’s right. No steering wheel or pedals. Just two seats with belts and a variety of on-board computers and sensors.
At the ongoing Recode conference in San Francisco, Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder who heads the Google X group announced this new version of their driverless cars. He says that the program is currently in a prototype phase, but that it plans to build around 100 early versions of the vehicles for testing this summer. The car looks like a modified version of Tata Nano, and will initially include manual controls in case something goes wrong. But Google plans to eventually develop a fool-proof car for commercial use.
For the past few years, Google has been testing the self-driving technology which retrofits existing vehicles made by Toyota and Lexus. The new one though comes with a completely new design and built from scratch using off the shelf car parts. That includes heavy use of foam, and an electric motor. Google’s overarching goal with the self-driving car program has been to develop vehicles that are safer than the ones driven by humans.
Google hopes that these self-driving cars will become good enough to become robo-taxis, specially in those parts of US which lack good public transportation. In addition to steering wheel, accelerator and braking pads, the new car has lost the mirrors, the backseat, the glove compartment and the stereo as well.
The Google car comes with a lot of sensors, and a transplant of the self-driving software system Google has built to use on the Toyota Priuses and Lexus SUVs it has trained to drive on highways and city streets over the past five years. Google says that there are redundant mechanical systems built in, with two sets of steering and braking systems, so if one fails the other can take over.
The new car looks cute and cuddly from the outset, but there’s a thought process behind this compact design. The round frame is built with sensor mounts and hence has virtually no blind spots.
The new sensors give the car the ability to see what’s going on up to a distance of two football fields. There’s a laser lantern on top which provides the car with full 360-degree views, which is so much better than the 12-degree view on the previous version. The car is limited to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, which is good enough to drive in most cities.
Google insists that they have no plans to manufacture and sell these cars to the consumers, but wants to partner with other established car manufacturers to bring the driverless car to the market.