A prototype of Google's self-driving car.
RANCHOS PALOS VERDES, Calif. — Google has been building self-driving cars for years, but what we've seen so far has always been retrofits of existing cars — until now. The search giant unveiled on Tuesday a fully autonomous self-driving car, built from the ground up by Google and its partners.
Company co-founder Sergey Brin revealed his plans at Recode's Code Conference in southern California. He told Recode editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher (who has ridden in the car), that there's a safety benefit in a custom-built self-driving car. Because the car doesn't have a steering wheel, accelerator or brakes, it has more sensors in strategic spots than is possible in a regular vehicle. It is also equipped with a big "stop" button. In addition to all this tech, Google's autonomous car includes internal power steering and power brakes.
"It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, 'What should be different about this kind of vehicle?'" Chris Urmson, director of the Self-Driving Car Project, wrote in a blog post about the new car.
Swisher said riding in the all-electric car was like going on a Disney ride. Considering it currently has a maximum speed of roughly 25 mph, this makes sense. Brin described riding in the car, which in one test was programmed via smartphone, as "relaxing," and similar to catching a chairlift. He added that the car will eventually go up to 100 mph once it's proven to be able to travel safely at that speed.
As for when the cars — which are significantly smaller than traditional cars and include couch-like seating — might actually make it to real highways, Brin said Google will soon test them with drivers. "Within a couple of years, we'll — if we’ve passed the safety metrics we've put in place, which is to be significantly safer than a human driver ... have them on the road," he said.