Google unveils self driving car prototype

MV woman goes for a spin in small two-seater

Google posted a video this week of elderly and disabled passengers enjoying a prototype self-driving car, another step towards "transforming mobility for millions of people" the company says.

Mountain View resident Thida Cornes was among those who were first to test the little electric two-seater vehicle, which was revealed on Tuesday.

Cornes, who has a disability, said she really enjoyed the "futuristic experience" of technology that would benefit her. Because of her disability, "it is too painful for me to drive after the first 20 minutes and you don't want to drive while you are in pain."

Google's car of the future looks a bit like a toy made for a small child, and has no steering wheel or accelerator or brake pedals "because they don't need them."

"Our software and sensors do all the work," said Chris Urmson, head of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, in his announcement on a Google blog post Tuesday. He called it "an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people."

Among the testers was an elderly couple and a blind man named Steve, who giggles with joy while riding in the car. "Our lives are made up of lots and lots of little things," such as being able to drive places and connect with people, Steve said later. "So there is a big part of my life that's missing, a big part of my life that self-driving cars bring back to me."

Urmson extolled the benefits of the vehicles for seniors, writing that "seniors can keep their freedom even if they can't keep their car keys,"

"I just went into the car with my service dog and and pushed a button and it drove itself," Cornes said. "It was a very smooth ride, it was pretty amazing actually. The braking was as smooth as I've ever experienced."

The car includes sensors that can detect objects in all directions as far as two football fields away.

"I feel like humans are very unpredictable on the road," Cornes said. "I think a computer would more accurately predict (dangers).

"Assuming it works, it's going to be safer than humans. It's going have a better reaction time, and it's going to be able to see better," she said of its 360-degrees view around the car.

Cornes cited other benefits: being able to focus on conversations with her kids: "It would be much better if I wasn't multitasking, if I could spend that time with my kids." And she would no longer depend on disabled parking spaces being available, she said. "I would just tell it to drop me off and then have it park itself."

According to Urmson, the first prototypes will have the speed capped at 25 miles per hour. They feature a front end made of foam and a plastic windshield. The cars are prototypes so they are "light on creature comforts, but we'll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers' belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route and that's about it," Urmson writes.

"We're planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls," Urmson writes. "If all goes well, we'd like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years. We're going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we'll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely."

"There's going to be lot of scrutiny of it," Cornes said. "A lot of it is about public perception."

The video can be seen here.


Like this comment
Posted by knwmn
a resident of another community
on May 28, 2014 at 5:23 pm

What is its fuel source? Hydrogen I hope.

Like this comment
Posted by Jeff
a resident of another community
on May 28, 2014 at 6:07 pm

I'm curious how self driving cars safely interact with pedestrians in crosswalks.

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Posted by B.Hughes
a resident of another community
on May 28, 2014 at 6:09 pm

I don't know about everyone else, but with no steering wheel or safety brake pedal, I'm not getting in one of those things... Ever heard of a software crash? In this case it could be a Car Crash.

Like this comment
Posted by Take away emotion
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 29, 2014 at 5:15 am

They are safer because the ego that usually goes along with people's driving behavior, is not even an option offered in this car.
I fear the angry ego driver who feels he/she has been "disrespected" more than self driving cars.

Like this comment
Posted by Look past the flash to see the gold
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 29, 2014 at 6:53 am

What these really are being used for is to showcase Google's technology that is/will be available to put into production cars. They want to be the "Powered by Google" part of the digital side of your car like the navigation or music system. Think of it like the "Intel Inside" campaign. The car is just a splashy showcase for the real product: Google technology licensed to Honda, Ford, Mercedes, Kia, Audi...Google in every car out there.

Like this comment
Posted by dude from future
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on May 29, 2014 at 7:14 am

These don't go above 25 mph and they apparently have a very soft front end with malleable windshields (for hitting pedestrians, but for that news, I'm a little curious how they would fare in a head-on collision. Or rather, the riders inside.

Like this comment
Posted by Look past the flash to see the gold
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 29, 2014 at 9:48 am

It doesn't matter how they perform on the road because they won't be on the road. Its all about the technology inside the car. Think of the car as simply a booth at a trade show set up to highlight the technology. You can't drive a booth on the road, but Google can license the heck out of that technology. Target market is the established car industry.

Like this comment
Posted by cet
a resident of Castro City
on May 29, 2014 at 11:14 am

I can imagine a future Darwin award winner jumping out in front of one of these to try and get a lawsuit. If Google is smart, these are outfitted with recorders.

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Bailey Park
on May 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Why would recorders be needed? They are non-road-worthy prototypes and will never be used on the road.

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Posted by cet
a resident of Castro City
on May 29, 2014 at 4:15 pm

The lawyers are lining up right now. Google, do the recorder thing. Trust me. Ever see Russia? It's real heavy.

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Bailey Park
on May 29, 2014 at 5:12 pm

He has no clue they will never be on the road does he? Can someone else explain it to him? Maybe we should just let him continue to believe...that may be nicer. Peace.

Like this comment
Posted by cet
a resident of Castro City
on May 30, 2014 at 6:40 am

Don't be evil?

Yeah right. These mind control devices on my streets? Say hello to lawsuits and accidents, bloody bodies and riots.


Read your Ayn Rand.

Like this comment
Posted by They are watching us all
a resident of Bailey Park
on May 30, 2014 at 9:19 am

...and line your hat with foil.

Like this comment
Posted by chas
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 30, 2014 at 10:56 am

It seems that cars like these would be good in a Taxi service. A while back the city was talking about Pod Cars running on tracks but cars like these would be much more flexible. Good for getting to places around town. And with the traffic situation we are now experiencing you don't really need a car that goes faster then 25 MPH...

Like this comment
Posted by dc
a resident of North Whisman
on May 30, 2014 at 4:05 pm

FYI. You can be sued for an accident in a car, on a bike, pushing a shopping cart and even while walking. The suit will name who in in control during the incident and who could be at fault. It may be more effective to sue Google than the occupant.

Like this comment
Posted by cet
a resident of Castro City
on May 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm

You'll never see me in one of these deathtraps. I'll be living the dream on my recumbent bike, thanks very much.

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Posted by Here to be entertained by you
a resident of Castro City
on Jun 2, 2014 at 6:33 am

"You'll never see me in one of these deathtraps."
I know, that's because you can't buy one. Most have figured that out by now, but I'm enjoying your refusal to admit that in our posts. More please :)

Like this comment
Posted by Darin
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Darin is a registered user.

Re: "never be on the road"

Actually, the plan is for about 100 of these self-driving prototype vehicles to be on the road as early as next year. The MV Voice article didn't make that clear, but other news coverage has made it clear.

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