Imagine a car that looks like a cartoon koala. Now, imagine this adorable tiny car without a steering wheel or pedals, two seats, and a top speed of 25mph. Here it is: this is the Google’s self-driving car.
Unlike the early mock-up car Google first shared in May, this first complete version of the driverless vehicle prototype is fully functional. Google’s engineers built a variety of prototypes-of-prototypes from the ground up, to test specific parts of the vehicle, be it brakes or sensors. The latest version layers self-driving technology onto a patchwork of car parts from conventional suppliers.
The car drives slowly and deliberately, using a mixture of 3D laser mapping, GPS, and radar to analyze and interpret its surroundings. Thanks to the radar, the car can see through objects, rather than relying on line-of-sight. The car is fully electric with a range of about 100 miles. All of this is pretty exciting.
Google says this prototype will be hitting its test tracks over the holidays, promising to send it on the streets of Northern California in the New Year. The car will still have a human driver to oversee the vehicle for a while longer, using temporary manual controls as needed while Google continues to test and learn.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Google is not interested in manufacturing the cars themselves, but is looking to partner with existing auto makers in a bid to commercialize the technology in five years. While still in its infancy, self-driving technology has a bright future. Think about all the possibilities of fully autonomous driving: no need to wait around for parking. Fewer traffic jams. And better safety. Each car now collectively possesses 40 years of driving experience, while all the self-driving cars currently on the road will continue to learn from one another. It is becoming clear to the market that the connected and driverless car will pay for itself.