Google Completes Self-Driving Car Prototype


Google has published photos of its first “complete” prototype of a self-driving car. It hopes to test it on public roads next year.

The first mock-up of the company’s vehicle was unveiled back in May but was missing several key features, most notably headlights. Since then Google has built a range of test vehicles, each of which had a different combination of components designed to test a particular feature.

The prototype shown this week is the first that has everything in place and effectively creates a fully-functional vehicle. The design, with soft visual features, curves, and something resembling a face, is partly intended to make drivers of other vehicles more relaxed and less stressed when driving near it.

Ironically the Google car can be adjusted to display different levels of aggression (or, looked at another way, caution). For tests on real roads, the cautiousness will be at the max.

One person who’s been on a test drive noted that the mental adjustment to an automated car is surprisingly easy and if anything the driving is overly-calm (the car is limited to 25 miles an hour.) He also noted that among the various tools the car uses to track location and surrounding objects, the most impressive was a radar beam that meant the car braked to avoid a cyclist coming from out of sight behind a hedge.

There were some bugs however, most notably the car getting stuck in a feedback loop with a pedestrian who appeared to be weighing up whether to cross the road.

Google plans to take advantage of California laws that allow testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads. The rules say the company must have a driver in the car to take over if there’s a malfunction. There’s also a mandatory $5 million of liability insurance.

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