The following article is brought to you courtesy of Carsales.com.au. -Ed.
Google’s been experimenting with driverless technology for the past several years, converting a Toyota Prius and Lexus Rx into autonomous models. The tech company’s latest breakthrough has just been unveiled, taking their former work and elevating it to a higher level. This self-driving prototype from Google has been built from the ground up as a fully electric two-seater with no steering wheel, pedals, or gear shifter. Small, efficient, and free from human error; could this be the future of car production?
The Google Model
You can learn more about the new Google car here, which is capable of hitting a top speed of 25 miles per hour. With no steering wheel or pedals, passengers have no option that allows them to drive. You simply put on your seatbelt and push the start button, leaving the rest in the car’s hands. The vehicle is composed of flexible plastic and compressible foam, with a dual-motor driving system that can keep the car in motion even if the engine fails.
A Future with Autonomous Cars
It already seems to be a given that self-driving cars are going to be a part of our future as motorists, but the extent to which they’ll take over the road remains to be seen. It’s unknown whether the future self-driving cars will look like Google’s new model, or how far the technology will advance. Many believe that we’ll have autonomous cars by 2020, while others believe that there are simply too many questions to answer still. But Google has proven with their new model that the technology is available today, so it’s more a question of how to regulate these new types of automobiles. US states like California already permit self-driving cars, provided that there’s a driver behind the wheel. Google even envisions a future without car ownership entirely, instead providing cars that appear on demand to drive us where we want to go.
Limitations to Overcome
From a technical standpoint, Google’s new little car still has a way to go to become a viable commercial option. Although it can drift along nicely in the California sunshine, it would be unsuitable for rough and rugged terrain or inclement weather. Google’s cars use a complex system of sensors and cameras to map the world in real-time, looking for pedestrians or other hazards in the car’s path. Yet these sensors alone aren’t enough to be fool-proof, so the car also uses super-precise maps to supplement this information. Thus far, Google has only been able to map 2,000 road miles in this high-precision format, leaving hundreds of thousands of miles to go in California alone.
These types of technical obstacles are likely to be overcome. The bigger challenge for Google and other autonomous automakers is getting the legal go-ahead from world governments. New laws would need to be written to determine who would be at fault in an accident involving a self-driving car, for example. At the moment, a human driver must be able to override a robot car for it to be legal on the road.
Although there are a few issues to consider before self-driving cars enter the mainstream, with the unveiling of this new model it does seem increasingly likely that they’ll become a daily reality in the next decade.