Google is taking the next step in its relentless march to bring driverless cars to market by commissioning the construction of a fleet of 100 prototype vehicles without steering wheels and pedals.
Google says they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button – an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.
The two-seat electric prototypes mark a departure from Google's past practice of modifying existing production cars for the company's autonomous driving experiments. Google says it has contracted a Detroit area company, rumoured to be Roush Enterprises, to construct the prototypes.
Initially they will be limited to a top speed of about 40 km/h and are said to have redundant motors so that if one fails the other can steer to safety. Other added safety features include foam bumper s and a plastic windshield for pedestrian protection.
At this stage, Google’s autonomous cars can only operate in areas that have been extensively scanned and mapped using the company's mapping technology.
Google has been working on autonomous cars since 2009 and once promised that they would be on the road by 2017, but that timetable now seems optimistic, at least in terms of commercial application.
Beyond just the technical issues involved, there are extensive legal and regulatory challenges, such as insurance and liability concerns, still to be addressed.
If the technology develops as Google hope, the company says it will work with partners to bring it into the world safely.