While working test models of automated cars have been shown off since 2012 (See Inquisitr‘s coverage of the first test drive video here), all of the previous versions of Google’s self-driving vehicles have been modified versions of existing street cars that have been modified to run Google’s software and to work with an installed control system.
Today’s revelation marks a change from those early test models. As CNN reports, the new Google cars not only have their own look and specialized design, they are also missing several key features that drivers have come to expect over the years. Chief among these are the steering wheel, the brake, and gas pedals. As the company announced on the official blog post, “They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them.”
The company also reported that this version of its self-driving car will be able to detect objects to 200 yards away in all directions and that it will be able to adjust its turning, speed, and braking to accommodate this information.
While the possibility of cars operating without human supervision might be frightening at first, these new models will be constrained to 25 miles per hour, and the end goal for Google does not seem to be to challenge existing automobile manufacturers. The L.A. Times reported that several industry experts independently concluded that the challenge of bringing such a car to market directly would not be likely to be worth the risk, but that, “they want to control the information that would allow driverless cars to operate.”
Live Mint seemed to confirm this information in their article, when they reported that the cars were manufactured by Roush Enterprises, a Detroit-area automotive supply manufacturer. They also reported that public testing would be slow to implement, as Google would need to apply for permits to test its self-driving cars in each state separately.
In addition to those difficulties, Wired has already pointed out several design flaws that the vehicles will also have to overcome if they are to build public interest in self-driving cars, including the fact that the company seems to lack a clear understanding of the public need for this kind of vehicle. They reported that Google’s project director Chris Urmson responded to a recent question about what consumers want out of these vehicles with: “We won’t understand that until people actually get to try it out.”
Is this the beginning of a new era of self-driving automobiles? Or is Google just taking us out for another test drive, like they did when they unveiled their self-driving Prius in 2012? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain, though: they are committed to making this project work, no matter how long it takes.