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Google designs driverless car for pilot project

Google has announced that it is planning to build around 200 prototype cars that will drive themselves and will be tested in a pilot program on California's roads later this summer. Although the test fleet will be equipped with manual controls, as required under state law, it is envisaged that eventual production models will have no steering wheel, brake or accelerator, and just a button for stop and go. The bubble-shaped, electric-powered two-seater will be restricted to a top speed of 40km/h (25mph) and will have two motors, so that if one fails, the other can steer it to safety. The autonomous vehicles (AVs) will feature expanded foam in their construction, in order to minimize the impact in the event of a crash, and a screen to display the route. Unlike Google’s previous self-driving vehicles, which have been based on conventional cars, such as Lexus SUVs and the Toyota Prius, the new model has been designed entirely in-house.

Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, explained, “It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, ‘What should be different about this kind of vehicle?’ 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. They’ll be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention. They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal; because they don’t need them. Our software and sensors do all the work. The vehicles will be very basic, we want to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible, but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button. And that's an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people. 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.”

Commenting on his first ride in a prototype vehicle, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and head of its ‘X’ lab for long-range research, said, “It reminded me of catching a chairlift by yourself; a bit of solitude I found really enjoyable. The main reason the team and I decided to build this prototype vehicle, is that we can do a better job than we can do with an existing vehicle. The project is about changing the world for people who are not well-served by transportation today.”

May 29, 2014

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