During a recent visit to Google HQ in California’s Mountain View campus, I got a glimpse of what the future of ‘undriving’ might look like.
I was given access to the team behind the search giant’s self-driving car programme. Part of Google X, the company’s the semi-secret research arm, the crew is usually hidden away from the public eye. I was there to find out what it takes to use this technology, and what it’s like to be a Google test driver; taking a backseat to the car’s computers even when sat behind the steering wheel.
It was an interesting time to observe just how ready driverless cars are for the road. Today, Google announced plans to start building its own vehicles, rather than relying on other manufacturers. So far, Google has fitted its driverless technology into existing cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450hs.
Yet Google’s own vehicles will be cute little city cars with smiling, non-threatening faces, and pedestrian friendly crash features. The company’s reasoning is that if its cars are going to be autonomous, they needn’t follow conventional designs.
Although Google’s new cars are designed to eventually dispense with steering wheels and pedals, at first Google wants to fit the cars with human-specific controls, which can be plugged in and layered on top of the autonomous controls, so that the cars can be safely tested on public roads. They will be very much like the vehicle I travelled in, which has a steering wheel and pedals in case the human driver needs to take over.