Google (GOOGL) unveiled the new prototype for its self-driving cars on Tuesday. The cars will not have steering wheels or brakes and will be fully operated by the vehicle’s computer.
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The company has been developing self-driving vehicles for the past four years, letting Google employees test ride them on the freeway and in commutes to work. Previous prototypes had a steering wheel, in case of a functional problem, but the vision has now changed course.
Google’s self-driving cars will be “designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention,” said Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car project, in a statement. “They will take you where you want to go at the push of a button.”
On a press call, Urmson pointed to the fact that most of the 1.2 million annual auto fatalities stem from human error. Google envisions a future world where self-driving cars are the standard and drunk and distracted driving is “history.”
In an effort to reduce concerns about technical malfunctions, Google is placing an emphasis on safety. The new vehicles will “have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions,” says Urmson.
“We need to make sure that autonomous driving technology works and we can feel safe – inside and outside of the vehicle,” said Jared Rowe, president of Kelley Blue Book. “Google will have a lot to learn about automotive manufacturing if they do end up wanting to become a mainstream brand, however, they have the resources necessary to succeed if they put the full weight of their resources toward it.”
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Google also wants to make it so seniors and disabled people can travel around, without help. “Millions of people can’t drive because of age or health reasons,” a Google release stated, “yet in many communities, fundamental services like doctors’ offices, pharmacies and grocery stores are only accessible by car.”
The cars will make it easier for commuters to pass the time leisurely, one could feasibly drive a car and read a book at the same time. Google predicts that once consumers are adjusted to the notion of driverless vehicles, they will recognize the convenience.
“We are not too surprised that Google is out developing their own cars,” said Neil Doshi, analyst at CRT Capital. “It seems pari passu with their mobile strategy of developing great software, and then following it up with hardware that ideally showcases that software.”
Google is planning to build about a hundred of the latest prototype. A similar version with manual controls will be tested out this summer.
Google shares are down 7% in the past three months and are currently trading around $564. The company has a market cap of $385 billion.