We have officially entered into the future of automobile transportation and Google is in the driver’s seat.
The tech giant revealed its first “fully functional” self-driving car on December 22 and announced its intention to test drive the vehicle on San Francisco area roads in 2015.
Google has been developing self-driving car technology for years now, and revealed an earlier version of its self-driving prototype in May of this year.
Unlike its predecessor, the newest version of the prototype does have headlights but still does not have a steering wheel, gas, or brake pedals. It does, however, contain temporary manual controls just in case something goes awry.
Although Google is the first company to create its own self-driving prototype, Google is far from the only car company exploring self-driving car technology. Six other companies have been approved to test self-driving cars in California including Volkswagen/Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, and Nissan. Rather than creating their own prototype, however, these other companies have just retrofitted other model cars with driverless software (a task Google has also pursued with the development of its driverless Google Prius).
Despite the hype that surrounds self-driving cars, there are some obvious concerns related to their use. At the ITS World Congress in 2013, engineers and IT experts expressed hesitations about self-driving car technology because of high implementation costs, connectivity barriers, liability concerns, lack of industry regulations, and other technological hurdles.
Regardless of these concerns, Google’s foray into the brave new world of self-driving cars has many feeling hopeful about a future free from human-error and behavioral related driving issues like drunk driving, speeding, falling asleep at the wheel, and texting while driving. Earlier this year, Google published an optimistic blog post highlighting the personal and societal benefits of self-driving technology.
“Ever since we started the Google self-driving car project, we’ve been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving. Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History,” Google said in a blog post last May.
Although Google’s prototype still requires government approval to operate on public streets without the presence of a human driver, it offers a brief glimpse into our driving future. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, previously estimated that self-driving cars would be ready for public use as soon as 2017– which means a driving-free future could be right around the corner.