U.S. technology giant Google made a step forward in its push for self-driving cars by unveiling a prototype without any manual controls.
Google said someday its vehicles will be better drivers than many humans who drive today’s cars.
The company's self-driving cars are not a rare sight in western states like California and Nevada, whose legislators are more open to the idea of vehicles with only passive human control.
So far, Google has been converting standard, mass-produced cars, with regular steering wheels and pedals, where a person in the driver’s seat could take over at any time.
The subcompact two-seater, presented this week, is a totally new concept, without a possibility for the passengers to control direction, speed or braking.
After entering the destination in the on-board computer, humans can only sit and observe the scenery, or watch the car’s progress on the electronic display. The top speed is limited to 40 kilometers per hour.
“They are a chance for us to explore what it really means to have a self-driving vehicle," said the company’s director for self-driving cars, Chris Urmson. "But in a smaller amount of time we've been working on it now, we have functional prototypes, and it's exciting.”
Urmson said Google wants to develop the technology up to the point where people would be able to call up a car and have it take them where they want to go. The car would then go to the next caller.
It is very likely that by 2020, semi-autonomous-drive vehicles will be common, according to Zoran Filipi, professor of Automotive Engineering at Clemson University.
“We’ll be able to enjoy other activities while in the car, and, very importantly, we’ll be absolutely safe in traffic,” he said.
Filipi said people will be relieved of some burden of driving on the freeway, but will be able to resume control as they approach their destination.
Google plans to build about a hundred of these prototypes, some with manual controls, and test them on California roads. If all goes well, we could be speeding down the road to the future in driverless cars.