Google is set to have it’s new Google Car on the road ASAP. The original plan was to have the first fully equipped self driving car on the road but California launched new laws that require the car to have a driver in it at all times and manual controls (steering and pedals) should the driver need to take over for any reason.
Google hopes to partner with a real car maker to bring a self-driving vehicle to market in the next five years. Whether the commercialized driverless car will look like the overly cutesy Google prototype remains to be seen. In the past Google has focused on retrofitting cars like the Prius with the hardware and software it needs to drive autonomously around California and Nevada. After hundreds of thousands of accident-free miles, Google is confident enough in its self-driving tech that it’s taking the next steps towards commercialization. In May it unveiled a semi-functioning prototype and today it is unveiling a completed, fully functioning prototype that is road-legal.
The older model and the prototype look very similar at first glance. However, the new prototype actually has working headlights (previously they were drawn on), and the hump on the roof of the car (which houses the LIDAR hardware) is a lot more svelte. Some people will be upset to see that the smile has been removed, too, replaced by a couple of indicators. (The front of the prototype still looks a bit like a face, but it looks a bit more… strained or serious, perhaps. (temismarketing) )
The biggest changes, though, aren’t visible from the outside: To comply with new legislation in California, this new prototype has a full set of manual controls — a steering wheel, pedals, etc. Basically, to prevent the roads being flooded with (potentially) dangerous self-driving cars, test vehicles must allow for “immediate physical control” — i.e. there has to be a driver in there that can slam on the brakes if the car’s software misbehaves. Google had previously hoped that its prototype self-driving car would have just a single button — a big stop/go button in between the two passenger seats — but for now, its self-driving cars will need to have the usual manual controls as well.
Google says it’s going to spend the next few weeks and months zipping around its test track, and then if all goes to plan we should see the cute little car on the streets of California “in the new year.” Eventually, Google hopes to produce around 200 of the prototype cars — which might seem like a lot, but for something as risky and bleeding-edge as autonomous driving, trust me there’s no such thing as too much testing.
Long-term, Google is hoping to find industrial partners (i.e. car manufacturers) that can bring its self-driving tech to the mass market within five years.