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Google's adorable ickle self-driving car set to take over the world

James Temperton
28 May 2014
Google self-driving car
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Google's car of the future will be tiny bubble made of foam-like material with no steering wheel or brake pedal

Google's self-driving car has morphed from a hulking great Lexus into a tiny Fisher Price toy, complete with GO and STOP buttons.

The company boasted that our roads would soon be filled with elderly drivers and drunks propelled by self-driving cars that "shoulder the entire burden of driving".

Self-driving cars have been in testing at Google since 2010 and the company has finally unveiled the first prototype vehicle. The tiny bubble car replaces a Lexus SUV previously used by Google to test its self-driving car software.

"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," said Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project.

Google's modified Lexus SUV still had all the 'traditional' controls allowing the human passenger to take over in an emergency, but the company said these were dropped when they realised people failed to pay any attention to the road.

"We saw stuff that made us a little nervous," Urmson said, with people often reading, daydreaming or even sleeping. As a result, the current prototype car has no controls and only a 'go' and 'stop' button.

According to The New York Times Google is building 100 of the prototype vehicles, which are limited to 25 mph and are powered by en electric battery with a range of around 100 miles. The first fleet should be road-ready by early next year.

The front of the cars will be made from a soft foam-like material in case of collisions with pedestrians. Its sensors will see for around 600 feet in all directions, while on the inside there is space for two passengers.

Google self-driving car

Google will initially use the self-driving cars on its giant campus in California but the prototype vehicles could soon be appearing on roads in the US.

Current regulations would require Google to fit its cars with manual controls for any testing on public roads, although the company is confident it can persuade authorities that such controls aren't necessary.

Google is dreaming big, with co-founder Sergey Brin predicting a future when self-driving cars will drive at high speeds and transform modern transportation:

"Obviously it will take time, a long time, but I think it has a lot of potential. Self-driving cars have the potential to drive in trains much closer together and, in theory, in the future at much higher speeds," he said.

"There is nothing to say that once you demonstrate the safety, why can’t you go 100 miles per hour?"

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