Google Announces New Self-Driving Car Prototype Fleet

By Matt Schmitz  on May 28, 2014

If you could buy one of Google's all-new cars on a dealer lot, you wouldn't have to wonder how much that optional heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel is going to set you back — because there is no steering wheel. Or gas pedal. Or foot brakes. The prototype fleet of electric-powered, entirely self-driving cars announced Tuesday by the Silicon Valley-based tech giant — which has been developing autonomous-car technology for years — is expected to begin testing by year's end.

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According to USA Today, the fleet of as many as 200 prototype two-seaters is part of Google's efforts to "reengineer transportation." In lieu of conventional human-controlled driving mechanisms, the new car instead uses sensors and software to avert danger, the newspaper reported. The prototype currently has a top speed of only 25 mph (no word on its zero-to-25 mph sprint time) and has been involved in no accidents yet, USA Today said.

In the Google video above, Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car project, said the program was a chance to explore what it means to have a self-driving vehicle. For example, in a society in which much of life revolves around the seemingly simple act of getting from one place to another, limitations for people who are disabled would be mitigated.

"The opportunity for people to just move around and not worry about it, it's going to be incredibly empowering and incredibly powerful for people," Urmson said.

One woman in the video said a self-driving car would allow her to spend more time with her family. Another rider noted being impressed at how the vehicle slowed before a bend in the road, and then accelerated through the curve in perfect driver's-ed textbook fashion.

"It actually rides better than my own car," one woman remarked.

Google image

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News Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers.  Email Matt