GOOGLE SELF-DRIVING CAR
It might look the part, but this is no koala-themed clown car. No, this is the latest chapter in Google’s quest to develop the perfect self-driving car.
The Californian tech giant already has a number of familiar-looking models cruising around, but this is the first designed by Google itself.
While many of the company’s autonomous vehicles are modified examples of existing Toyota and Lexus models, this new concept was developed from the ground up as a self-driving chariot of the future.
So, of course, there’s no steering wheel and no pedals. Because, well, why bother?
Yes, current and coming laws require that a passenger be able to take manual control of an autonomous vehicle, but Google envisions a time where something as reckless as hands-on driving will be unnecessary - and terrifying to even consider.
(Unless, like Will Smith’s character in the 2004 film I Robot, you happen to find your autonomous Audi under attack from a platoon of rogue robots…)
Google wants to be clear that it doesn’t intend to offer this new hatch for sale, but it does want to see something of the sort on public roads in the future.
“The project is about changing the world for people who are not well-served by transportation today,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the inaugural Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Like Google’s current fleet of self-driving Prius hatches and Lexus RX SUVs, this little two-seater is loaded with sensors and advanced intelligent software to help it navigate through town and along freeways on its own.
Google says it has racked up more than 1.1 million kilometres with its test cars, and the systems have now been fine-tuned (‘taught’, if you will) to deal with just about every hazard likely to confront this compact commuting clown car.
Its round shape eliminates most blind-spots, Google says, and a host of improved sensors give the car the ability to detect and interpret objects more than two football fields into the distance.
And while the laser-guided sensors of the previous test cars had only a 12-degree field of view - essentially a torch swinging around in the dark - these latest sensors have a full 360-degree view at all times.
For now, the car is limited to a top speed of 40km/h, which is generally quick enough to trundle through the average CBD without irritating other motorists.
The low speed limit helps to reduce the risk of serious injury in the event of an accident, but Google has also considered the car’s construction in reducing those dangers.
“We imagine at some point there will be an accident with one of these vehicles, so we’ve designed the front end to be soft,” the project’s safety chief, Ron Medford, said.
Up front, the koala-like compact is made from a special foam, while the windshield is flexible rather than a solid section of glass.
And its toy-like looks?
Well, our future robot overlords might as well look friendly. It reduces the risk of resistance and revolution, don’tcha know.