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How close is Google’s self-driving car, really?

By raccars Published

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No one who is interested in motoring could have missed the media hoopla in the past week about Google’s autonomous car. After years of developing the technology using adapted cars like the Toyota Prius and SUVs, Google decided to finally build its own car. There were good reasons for this. The adapted cars were never designed for such technology and inevitably there would have to be compromises and workarounds. The adapted cars even had blind spots close to the body of the car, where the technology couldn't 'see'. Clearly this couldn't be tolerated in a production car. The Google vehicle, on the other hand, has been designed from the ground up, to work perfectly with all that technology.

The Google vehicle revealed in California is truly ground-breaking. Gone are the controls, pedals and steering wheels of the adapted cars and instead there are simply two passenger seats, a 'go' button and a big red emergency stop button. This allows the cabin to be much more spacious than the small footprint would suggest. The two seats are forward facing and have standard seat-belts. This is designed to provide a familiar environment and also meet legislation about the safety of motor vehicles. It is also designed to look friendly and unthreatening and has an electric motor with a range of around 100 miles. The car can be summoned by a smartphone app.

Despite such an impressive demonstration, you may not be able to buy a Google vehicle anytime soon. The car has an impressive safety record, having clocked 700,000 miles in its various guises, including in busy San Francisco streets, without incident, but legislation is still likely to be a major barrier to its introduction. The current cars were allowed on California roads after a special law was passed to cater for the testing of the vehicles. This law, however, required that the cars have manual controls to override the automatic driving and a driver had to be present in case of any issues. The new Google car has no such override capabilities and the legal issues are likely to be complex.

Although Google has said that the first cars could be ready by next year, the reality is that it will be many years before they are widely available. Google has said that the first cars will undergo a further two years of testing, after which there will be further pilot projects before any roll out. The thinking is that a proper non-prototype car is at least five years in the future and it may in fact be much longer.

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