Unveiled earlier this May, the prototype cars resemble a sub-compact Volkswagen Beetle or Mini and of course, feature no steering wheel, throttle, or brake pedals. Currently, the car has a reported max speed of 40km/h.
This is the tech company’s first fully-built autonomous car, having modified models such as the Toyota Prius, Audi TT and Lexus RX450h in the past. The cars tested well in controlled and even road conditions. In 2012, one of Google’s test cars drove a legally blind Californian man from his home, through a drive thru at a restaurant, then to a dry cleaning shop and back home, safe and sound.
Google doesn’t have a plan at the moment to sell them on the open market. Even if they did, the cars aren’t built cheap – they carry about $150,000(US) of equipment on board, including a $70,000(US) light radar system, dubbed “Lidar.” These are the car’s “eyes,” scanning the world in real time for obstacles and other moving objects. This collected data compares against a map of the world inside its computer “brain,” giving it the power to drive itself.
The astronomical price tag in combination with a crawling top speed means Google’s autonomous cars would only be of use to people who can’t drive themselves such as blind people, the elderly and disabled.
As Google refines their technology and produce cars for the mass market, the way we drive might be turned on its head. Speaking to Drive.com.au, General Motors’ product development chief Mark Reuss called the cars a “serious competitive threat” to the automotive industry.
That might be a while off, but they could upend the taxi industry at the very least. Reports from early 2014 state Google plans to introduce a “robo-taxi” service in the United States. BMW have also produced their own self driving car, a modified 235i, showing it off at this year’s Computer Electronics Show (CES.)
Only time will tell if we’ll all be passengers in Google’s driverless “car of the future.”