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Google's autonomous car is truly hands-off -- there's no steering wheel

Sharon Gaudin | May 29, 2014
Company builds self-driving car prototype that also has no accelerator pedal and no brake.

Based on Google's assertion that robotic cars are better drivers than humans, it makes sense that the company's next step was to build a car that doesn't need a human driver at the controls.

"It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, "What should be different about this kind of vehicle?" Urmson wrote. "We started with the most important thing: safety. They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections."

At this point, Google has capped the speed of its first autonomous vehicles at 25 mph. The cars also are built for testing, not luxury, so they're light on comforts, basically coming with two seats, a space for passengers' belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route.

Google is set to build about 100 prototype vehicles, according to Urmson. Later this summer, the company's testers will start working with the first prototypes, which, in case of trouble, will still come equipped with manual controls.

If those tests go well, Google plans to then move on to a small pilot program, in which the cars are more widely tested on highways and city roads in California over the next few years.

"We're going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we'll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely," Urmson added. "We're looking forward to learning more about what passengers want in a vehicle where their number one job is to kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride."

 

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