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New Google Self-Driving Car: “Look Ma, No Hands!”

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(Google photo)

(Google photo)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – (WWJ) Something’s missing in the second generation of Google’s self-driving car project, any human controls.

“They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them,” read an entry on Google’s official blog page. “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.”


VIDEO: Google produced video on self-driving car.

Googles engineers have done hundreds of thousands of miles of on-road testing in Toyota and Lexus vehicles equipped with their self-driving technology. These new prototypes–which don’t go over 25 miles per hour will be tested on Google’s campus, not on public roads.

AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan says Google is trying to make a statement.

“This is just a point of saying, ‘Look we can actually make a car without having the crutch, or a backup like a steering wheel. We’re that confident in being able to do something like that.”

Major automakers are also working on technology that will allow cars to drive themselves. But they have stressed that the driver will always need to be engaged, and will need to be able to take over in an emergency.

Google’s philosophy is different, looking to take the entire driving experience out of the hands of human beings.

“The opportunity for people to just move around and not worry about it,’ said Chris Urmson, director, Google Self Driving Cars. “It’s going to be incredibly empowering, incredibly powerful for people.”

For Google, it’s about allowing people to do other things while the car is transporting them to their destination.

“They want to have distracted driving,” says AutoPacific’s Sullivan. “But, it’s going to be distracted autonomous driving.”

The actual vehicle, says the New York Times, was built by a manufacturer in Detroit. Google is not identifying that manufacturer.

But, Sullivan says Google’s goal isn’t to build cars that compete with existing automakers.

“They don’t want to be in the car building business,” he says. “They don’t want to be designing electric vehicles. They want to be designing the software that runs behind it.”

Major issues remain before self-driving cars arrive on roadways. Issues that include expense, reliability, and how autonomous vehicles interact with cars and trucks that are still being driven by individuals.

There are a variety of liability and legal issues to be worked out. Michigan just passed a law allowing for testing of self driving vehicles. But, like other states, it requires a driver who will be able to take control when needed.

Analysts are divided on a timetable. Some see the first self-driving cars appearing in the next decade. Other’s see the technology further off.

Google, which has brought on board some auto industry veterans, has some aggressive testing plans.

“We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls,” read the company’s blog entry. “If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of 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.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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