So many myths and mysteries surround self driving cars. Today however, we really have a bunch on our hands. We’re going to do some myth busting. So fasten your seat belt as we examine some truths and non-truths about self-driving cars using Google’s Car as a model.
Self-driving car prototype has no steering wheel, brake or accelerator pedals. So how safe is it, and what is it like on the road? Google unveiled a brand new self-driving car prototype on Tuesday; the first company to build a car with no a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. The car’s arrival marks the next stage in Google’s self-driving car project, which was born from the Darpa Grand Challenges for robotic vehicles in the early 2000s. Google kickstarted its own self-driving car project in 2008, and it has been rumbling on ever since, first with modified Toyota Prius and then with customized Lexus SUVs, which took the car’s existing sensors, such as the cruise-control cameras, and added a spinning laser scanner on the top. It is the first truly driverless electric car prototype built by Google to test the next stage of its five-year-old self-driving car project. It looks like a cross between a Smart car and a Nissan Micra, with two seats and room enough for a small amount of luggage. It is the first real physical incarnation of Google’s vision of what a self-driving car of the near future could be.
Where is it?
It operates in and around California, primarily around the Mountain View area where Google has its headquarters in the United States.
What does it do?
It ferries two people from one place to another without any user interaction. The car is summoned by a smartphone for pick up at the user’s location with the destination set. There is no steering wheel or manual control, simply a start button and a big red emergency stop button. In front of the passengers there is a small screen showing the weather, the current speed and a small countdown animation to launch.
Once the journey is done, the small screen displays a message to remind you to take your personal belongings – reinforcing that this is not aiming to be a substitute for your personal car at the moment, but more as a replacement for the taxi without the human driver.
What does riding in one feel like?
I’ve never actually been in one but I can sure tell you how I imagine it feels like. Very few people outside of Google have been allowed to ride in the new car. Most of the people depicted in Google’s promotional videos for the new car described the experience as “smooth” and “nothing that feels the least bit threatening”. Kara Swisher and Liz Gannes from technology site Re/code were one of the few independent test riders, who described the car as having “ample” room despite being small, likely due to the lack of the normal controls taking up space in the cabin, and “that this felt a lot like a theme park ride”.
Who Manufactured it?
Google has designed the car from scratch, starting with the sensors and a frame to interconnect them, then adding a cabin that does not block any of the sensors or create blind spots and eventually the body shell. The manufacturing of the 100 or so prototype cars will be done by a firm in the Detroit area, but Google declined to comment on which.
How does this thing work?
Powered by an electric motor with around a 100 mile range, the car uses a combination of sensors and software to locate itself in the real world combined with highly accurate digital maps. A GPS is used, just like the satellite navigation systems in most cars, to get a rough location of the car, at which point radar, lasers and cameras take over to monitor the world around the car, 360-degrees.
The software can recognise objects, people, cars, road marking, signs and traffic lights, obeying the rules of the road and allowing for multiple unpredictable hazards, including cyclists. It can even detect road works and safely navigate around them.