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Yesterday, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, posted on the company’s official blog to reveal the new prototype for the self-driving car. A few things we know now: it works, people love it, and it’s ridiculously cute.

Urmson explains that the prototype was constructed as a two-seater that lacks a steering wheel or pedals. Why? Because they’re unnecessary:

“They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them. Our software and sensors do all the work. 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.”

These prototypes are able to “detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions,” or a little over a tenth of a mile if that sounds more impressive. The self-driving car also has a top speed of 25 miles per hour, which is certainly a decision made with safety in mind. After all, if something goes wrong, you’d rather not be moving much faster than that, right?

The testing period will begin later this summer with an initial fleet of a hundred prototypes. From there, Google plans on starting a pilot program in its home-state of California. That’s good, as the state’s DMV recently adopted rules governing the testing of driverless vehicles, meaning that Google’s plans for the future seem to be going hand-in-hand with California’s state legislature.

A concept image that led to Google’s prototype self-driving car.

The potential for driverless cars is huge. Google has been testing its road-sensing technology on city streets for a while, and the results have been extremely promising. Meanwhile, Google has also reportedly been in talks with auto makers, and there seems to be a roughly six year timetable to actually get these vehicles out on the road, carrying actual people.

There are still some questions to consider, of course. For instance, recently there’s been talk about how the driverless car could affect the budgets of police departments throughout the United States. If cops can’t rely on money from traffic tickets – because driverless cars are far less likely to commit traffic violations than cars with human drivers – what will take the place of that revenue?

Moreover, the road-sensing tech seems to be housed in a delicate-looking array on the top of the vehicle. So how will Google account for inclement weather like rain, snow, and hail? Those aren’t really problems in California, but I’m hoping that the company has enough good sense to have a solution in mind for parts of the country plagued with more frequently nasty meteorology.

Regardless, the world’s roads are a dangerous place. If the driverless car can prove itself in test after test, maybe we’ll soon have a world where getting from one place to another will not only be easy, but will be free of traffic accidents and unsafe conditions.

[Official Google Blog]


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