Google unveiled its prototype self-driving car on Tuesday. It has no steering wheel, no gas pedal, no brakes, seats two people, has a top speed of 25 mph, and looks like a toaster with the liberty bell on top.
According to the Guardian, Google hopes to build 100 vehicles later this year for testing, with the goal of “bringing this technology to the world safely.” For the last few years, Google has been testing advanced driverless technology, including computers, sensors, navigation systems, and robotics installed in regular everyday cars. Meanwhile, it was developing its own prototype that has no capability for driver control other than turning the car on and off.
Google claims that their vehicle removes all facility for human control because they fear that an abrupt shift to driver-controlled piloting would be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. “We saw stuff that made us a little nervous,” said Christopher Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist who is leading the car project at Google. The New York Times reported that engineers determined that for a passenger engaged in reading, daydreaming, or even sleeping to suddenly take over in an emergency may be unsafe.
Several car manufacturers, including Mercedes, already have self-driving capabilities, but are for limited application. A feature known as traffic jam assist allows a driver to go into autopilot in extremely slow-moving traffic. Also, automatic parallel parking and crash avoidance systems exist in a variety of late-model vehicles.
Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder who is actively involved in the research program, acknowledged those innovations but made clear that Google’s goals are loftier. “That stuff seems not entirely in keeping with our mission of being transformative,” he said.