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Google polishes self-driving car

Froogal: Google’s electric vehicle doesn’t need petrol or a driver, and is nearing series production with all its self-driving tech neatly packaged in the first complete prototype.

First complete prototype of Google autonomous car ready for testing

Google logo24 Dec 2014

INTERNET giant Google has delivered an early Christmas present revealing its first complete self-driving prototype vehicle, taking the possibility of fully autonomous vehicles another step closer to reality.

In May, the online giant rolled out a development car it describes as a “mockup” which showcased the various core self-driving technologies but lacked more conventional car equipment such as headlights.

The early Christmas arrival differs from previous test mules as it possesses all the kit necessary to drive on public roads without the entourage the technology company has had to provide for previous trials.

In a short release, Google pointed out the car would still be accompanied by human controllers when out and about, but the “safety drivers” will be there as a formality, and the first complete product of the Self-Driving Car Project is completely self sufficient.

With the first near-production ready car now “zipping around” California, commercial and even privately owned or leased versions of the Google car may not be that far away, but the nuts and bolts are just one of the many challenges that have to be won.

The company has already proved that a vehicle can find its way around without human intervention but Google still has to win over both local legislation and public perception before self-driving cars are let off the legal leash.

While the technology may be advancing at ever increasing speed, people are not as quick to change says the company, but it is confident society will catch up in the same way it has embraced other rapidly accelerating technology such as the internet and computing.

The United States currently leads the world in autonomous car infrastructure, with a fleet of 100 Google cars rolling out in California, but testing of self-driving tech is also now approved across the water in England.

Other nations are in the game too with Germany, Sweden and Japan all trialing driverless cars from most major vehicle manufacturers including Nissan, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota.

The Google car is radically different from other vehicles on the road as it does not have a steering wheel or pedals, and where many conventional cars attempt to attract attention with sexy styling, the self-driving prototype is designed to look friendly and unintimidating.

Top speed is limited to 40km/h for initial trials and controls can be plugged in to take over - a big departure from the modified Toyota and Lexus cars the company embarked on its research with five years ago.

At this stage the car seats two and is a pure electric vehicle but the technology is not limited to a particular vehicle type and as soon as the tech is approved for public use, many other versions of autonomous vehicles could follow, including larger cars or even public transport.

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