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Google reveals new driverless car prototype ahead of testing this summer

Technology giant Google has unveiled the latest version of its proprietary self-driving car, which will make its debut on public roads this summer; it is a significant step forward in the company’s mission to have driverless cars available to consumers within the next five years.

Google says the new pod-like two-seater prototype is the first vehicle built from scratch for the sole purpose of self-driving. The vehicle can drive, brake and recognize road hazards without human intervention, and has more capabilities than the first prototype that was introduced in May 2014, which was not even equipped with working headlights.

The new electric pod has a range of 80 miles (129km) but lacks air bags and other federally-required safety features, so it is not permitted to travel at more than 25mph (40km/h) and can only drive in areas that have been thoroughly mapped by Google. Initially, the car will be equipped with a steering wheel and gas pedal that are currently required by California regulations, which also need the driver to be able to take back control at any time, but Google is lobbying for more flexible regulations.

The company will initially test 25 pods, mostly in neighborhoods surrounding its Mountain View headquarters in California, USA, and will eventually build between 50 and 100, broadening its testing to sites that are hillier and rainier. The new prototype cars will be assembled in Detroit, Michigan, USA, by Roush Industries, and will have the same array of radars, lasers and cameras as Google’s current fleet of Lexus SUVs.

At the launch, Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, explained that the ultimate goal is computer-controlled cars that can eliminate human error, which is a factor in an estimated 90% of the 1.2 million road deaths that occur worldwide each year, and the cars could also improve traffic congestion and transport the elderly and disabled. Brin said, “We are still refining our plans for self-driving cars, but I’m excited about their potential. Our goal is to create something safer than human drivers.”

Chris Urmson (right), who directs Google’s self-driving car project, says the new prototype is a good bridge between the company’s current test fleet of 20 specially outfitted Lexus SUVs and the more advanced, higher-speed driverless cars of its future, which might not even look like anything on the road today. Urmson noted, “This vehicle is really all about us learning. This vehicle could go on a freeway, but when we think about introducing the technology, we want to do that very thoughtfully and very safely.”

Last week, Google acknowledged 11 minor accidents in the six years it has been testing autonomous cars. Urmson says the company is proud of that record, and explained that Google’s vehicles have completed more than 1.7 million miles of testing, and all but one of the accidents were caused by drivers in other cars. In the only incident caused by a Google car, a staff member was driving the vehicle in manual mode.

For world-class discussion on the advancement of connected and autonomous vehicles, register now for the first ever Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium here

To view a video of the prototype in action click here

 

May 18, 2015

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