Google goes hands- and feet-free in pursuit of driverless cars

  • 28-May-2014 10:53 EDT
Google%20Self-Driving%20Prototype.jpg

An "early version" of Google's self-driving prototype.

Even though its first prototype car has no pedals or steering wheel, it's correct to say that Google is putting the pedal to the metal in its quest to develop fully self-driving vehicles. The company on May 27 released a photo of its prototype and announced that it will build about 100 of them. Later this summer, it 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."

Automotive Engineering is waiting for clarification/elaboration from Google on a number of matters, including why the early cars will have manual controls when the one shown on its website and demonstrated in its video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqSDWoAhvLU) doesn't have any.

The press release further states that "the vehicles will be very basic—we want to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible—but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button. And that's an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people."

New sensors on the cars can "see" out in all directions to a distance of more than 200 m (650 ft). Based on sensor inputs, Google software takes the car to its destination while avoiding other drivers' blind spot, "nudging away from" large trucks, and pausing before proceeding after a traffic signal turns green as an extra precaution. Speed is capped at 25 mph (40 km/h).

The prototypes will run the same software as Google had developed for it fleet of Lexus test models. For the prototypes, the sensors will be integrated, rather than "bolted on wherever they fit" as they were for the Lexus models.

Incorporated into the prototypes for evaluation will be several innovative safety features, such as a "foam" front end and a flexible windshield.

Google has contracted Roush Enterprises in the Detroit area to build the first 100 cars, confirms a Roush source. They should be road-ready by early 2015. Roush did all the engineering for the diminutive vehicles, which are based on a unique architecture, not derived from a production vehicle. Industry tier auto suppliers are supporting the program, according to the Roush source.

Watch a video of Google's self-driving car chief discuss the project at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdeXlrq-tNw.

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