‘Ok Google, drive me home.’ The latest models of Google’s self-driving cars are now cruising the streets of its Mountain View, California, office.
This marks the first time that the pod-like vehicles have been allowed on public roads since Google unveiled the next generation of its self-driving fleet more than a year ago. A two-seater car hits a top speed of just 40km/h, has flexible windscreens, a foam front, and (most terrifying) a removable steering wheel, no accelerator and no brake pedal.
So far Google has only built 25 of the self-driving automobiles. All 25 have permission from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to drive around on neighbourhood roads. The plan is that eventually Google will get clearance to remove the steering wheel, brake pedal and emergency driver from the prototype.
The cars, on roads since 2012, have only been involved in 12 minor crashes. In 11 of those incidents, they have been rear-ended or side-swiped by another car with a human driver, often at traffic lights.
According to Chris Urmson, director of Google Self-Driving Car Project, on Google’s blog, “We’ve been running the vehicles through rigorous testing at our test facilities, and ensuring our software and sensors work as they’re supposed to on this new vehicle. The new prototypes will drive with the same software that our existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs uses. That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project, and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week.
“We’re looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle—e.g., where it should stop if it can’t stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion. In the coming years, we’d like to run small pilot programs with our prototypes to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like this.”