Welcome to our final read in our series of articles geared towards debunking half truths about self-driving cars, using the Google Car as an example. You can catch up on all you’ve missed from the previous post on self driving cars here. In this our final article on this topic however, we shall be examining the limits and challenges poised in the way of this system.
What’s up with the design?
The car’s cute looks and friendly “face” were created intentionally to be “very Googley” according to its designers, to put both other road users and passengers at ease with the new technology. The shell is also designed to give the sensors the best view of the surroundings.
Why does it still look like a car on the inside?
The new car has two traditional car seats, primarily because in this iteration passengers have to be strapped in like they would in any other car to meet safety regulations, which means using standard seat belts. It also provides a more familiar passenger experience, which at this stage is likely important to aid adoption.
Google’s vision for this kind of self-driving car isn’t an exact replacement for the one parked outside your home. They are designed to be more like shared vehicles, possibly within a family or more likely as a replacement for taxis.
Google’s self-driving car
The front of the car is designed to absorb as much of the impact as possible with a pedestrian, if one ever happens.
These cars are still very much in the early prototype stage still, and Google is still trying to figure out how to make a product out of the technology, how much it is likely to cost and when it will be available. Apparently it will not have ads according to Google, although whether it’ll eventually have a small screen like some taxis now that plays video adverts, who knows. That will likely be up to the operator rather than Google.
Google is proving the technology, but it is unlikely to make the cars for sale once that technology is ready for the mass market. It has said in the past that it is actively seeking car manufacturing partners, which means we could see a Toyota, Ford or Fiat-made Google car in the future, but that is all very much still up in the air.
When can I get one?
Google says the cars should be road-ready by early next year, but that testing would take more than two years. At that point the technology will be ready for the next stage, which is likely to be greater pilot testing. Current expectations are that these self-driving cars are at least five years away from being mature enough to create a real, non-prototype product, but it may be far longer until you can buy or hire one for personal use.
What about legislation?
One of the biggest hold-ups to the progression of the technology onto the open road of Britain, the US, Australia and the rest of the world will be legislation. A law was passed in California over a year ago that made the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on roads possible, as long as they had manual override controls. The Department of Motor Vehicles in California is expected to issue regulations on the operation of self-driving cars soon, after which self-driving cars may become a bit more common place. However, there is still much to work out, primarily revolving around what a passenger in a self-driving car and can’t do – will they have to be able to take control at any moment, for instance – as well as questions around what happens when an accident happens, who is at fault and who pays.
Arghh! There, all done. This’s the last piece concerning debunking myths