It’s still early days for the technology, but its introduction reveals the company’s can-do, risk-averse philosophy. Chief executive Elon Musk explained the roll-out in a blog post: "When used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”
The visionaries at Google are going even further by planning to remove the driver altogether. Progress is steady but sure. Their test fleet – adapted Toyota Priuses and Lexus RX450hs fitted with sensors and artificial intelligence – have already successfully clocked up more than 1.5 million miles, navigating busy urban roads as well as highways.
So far so good. But the next step, it seems, is to throw out the old-style car and develop a totally new mobility machine. Enter the prototype Google vehicle. Just tap the touchscreen of this almost cartoon-like capsule on wheels, then sit back and relax as it transports you to your destination.
Is it really a car?
To design the prototype Google knew it needed new ideas. So instead of hiring an experienced car designer it opted for someone from outside the industry – a product designer called YooJung Ahn. Having a clean slate, Ahn believes, gave her and her team the freedom to develop a self-driving car with no steering-wheel or pedals.
“Not having a steering-wheel or pedals was actually our choice,” Ahn said to Fortune magazine. “When we started the prototype we didn’t start with a traditional car in our mind. We asked what is the very minimum we needed in order to get people from A to B? What is the most optimised design for safety and user experience?