Following years of ambitious development as well as testing on public roads, Google has formally unveiled the first working prototype of its self-driving car which was designed and built in house by the California based tech giant.
The currently nameless prototype takes the form of a two door coupe with the overall profile of a 21st century bubble car, and those hoping that the firm would give it some visual flair will be disappointed by its function over form appearance. In a statement, Google representatives revealed that this simplistic approach was purely intentional claiming that engineers working on the project could learn from the car and easily make changes to the design of the car without affecting the overall design and platform of the vehicle. We here at Autoinfoquest like the prototypes compact dimensions, but we would like to see designers ditch the rather plain looking front fascia in lieu of a more purposeful unit in future versions of the car.
The interior of the prototype mirrors the simplicity of the exterior with the only appointments being two seats, a pair of cup holders for two cups of morning coffee, and a small storage space for small items. The car’s purpose as a completely autonomous vehicle allowed engineers to ditch typical vehicle items such as the steering wheel, stalks, and pedals though Google was quick to mention that future prototypes will come equipped with a steering wheel and the aforementioned pedals to allow occupants to take over in the event the self driving system malfunctions. Electronic gadgetry is limited to just a small start/stop button that turns the car on and off, and a large screen that displays the route the prototype is currently on. Simplistic perhaps, but it does limit driver distractions and allows occupants to pay full attention to making sure the car stays on course during trips.
However the centerpiece of the prototype is not the bare bones accommodations, but rather the company’s self-driving system which is quite revolutionary in terms of operation and ingenuity. A specially designed laser mounted on the roof of the vehicle helps generate a detailed map of the road ahead which is compared with maps preloaded inside the car to help it avoid obstacles such as pedestrians, light poles, as well as other vehicles during its journey. Separate radar units allow the car to obey all current traffic laws, and can also prompt the car to come to a complete stop if an obstacle darts in front of its path at the last minute. While similar systems are already making their debut in several high end luxury models, this variant ups the ante and would be the first system that requires no driver input and is something many automakers should be watching carefully over the next few years.
Performance details for the tiny prototype were not released, but Google did disclose that the car is powered by an all electric power-plant which allows the car to hit an electronically limited top speed of 25 mph which is mostly due in part to safety concerns as well as the car’s prototype status. Google will be building 100 units as part of a pilot program (based in its home state of California) that allows the company to give them to real world testers that will provide Google valuable input as well as ways of improving the car for real world driving scenarios.
Long term plans for the project are a bit murky, but the company could either market a mass produced version of its self-driving car, or perhaps allow a major automaker to utilize the technology in an upcoming model in some sort of partnership. We suspect that the latter option will most likely occur since the costs and challenges of marketing and mass producing a completely new vehicle are enormous and require a long term investment, wheras allowing an automaker to use the technology is more cost effective in the long run, and still allows Google to achieve the desired marketing effect. In the meantime Google has released a brief video showcasing the prototype in action which can be seen below.