You might see Google's Driverless Car this summer
Google will be taking its first purpose-built driverless car onto public roads this summer. The tech giants have already been road-testing their self-drive software for some time but up until now it's been incorporated into modified Lexus SUV bodies.
The new car is purpose-built by Google. It doesn't look like much - the car is a pod-shaped two seater that resembles a kids' toy rather than a motoring revolution - but it's the inbuilt technology that really counts. The all-important sensors are mounted in a black module on the roof of the car.
The prototype has been thoroughly tested in Google's private facilities but has only now been given the green light to be tested alongside regular traffic in Mountain View, California - the home of Google HQ.
Chris Urmson of Google's self-driving car project said: "We've been running the vehicles through rigorous testing at our test facilities, and ensuring our software and sensors work as they're supposed to on this new vehicle.
"The new prototypes will drive with the same software that our existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs uses. That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project, and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week. So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on, he added.
Safety is paramount and Mr Urmson confirmed that the prototype vehicle would have its speed capped at 25 miles per hour. He also said that, while the car would essentially be driving itself, human safety drivers would be present. They would have access to a steering wheel and pedals in order to intervene if necessary.
According to a Reuters report both Google and rivals Delphi, who have also been testing driverless cars, had experienced a number of collisions on public roads. The majority of these were cases of the driverless cars being rear-ended by regular, human-driven cars however. Most of the accidents occurred while the driverless cars were stationary at intersections and the autonomous vehicles had not been at fault in any single case, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Reuters claimed that a Delphi and Google-equipped Lexus car had experienced a near miss but this was dismissed by Delphi spokesperson Kristin Kinley.
She said: Our car did exactly what it was supposed to. Our car saw the Google car move into the same lane as our car was planning to move into, but upon detecting that the lane was no longer open it decided to terminate the move and wait until it was clear again.
Google are hoping the tests will go beyond questions of safety and performance to examine how the driverless cars are able to integrate into a regular driving community.
Mr Urmson said: We're looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle - e.g., where it should stop if it can't stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion. In the coming years, we'd like to run small pilot programmes with our prototypes to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like this."