Google says its fully autonomous pod-shaped cars are ready to roll but the company has not yet applied for the permit it will need to hit the road in California.
Google has been testing Lexus SUVs retrofitted with its self-driving software and hardware for quite some time but it is now itching to take its fully autonomous prototypes out for a ride.
What's the difference? Well, besides being a lot smaller than an SUV, the Google pod cars have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator. They are inended to be just what the name implies -- fully autonomous, leaving the "driver" with nothing to do but sit there.
That, after all, is the whole idea -- creating a car that is basically a personal transport pod, according to a blog post by Chris Urmson, director of the project.
"When we started designing the world’s first fully self-driving vehicle, our goal was a vehicle that could shoulder the entire burden of driving. Vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car," Urmson said.
The pod cars will be scooting around Google's hometown of Mountain View, Calif., collecting real-world experience that can be used to refine the process and iron out any kinks.
Urmson said speeds will be capped at 25 miles per hour and drivers will be on board with removable steering wheels, brake pedals and accelerators so they can take control of the car if needed.
He noted that the Lexus vehicles have been logging 10,000 miles per week and, although they've been involved in three fender-benders, all the accidents were minor and were the fault of the other car's driver.
Not everyone is happy with that explanation.
“It is important that the public know what happened,” wrote John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog in a letter to Google. “You are testing driverless vehicles on public highways, quite possibly putting other drivers at risk.”
Simpson said Google should release all of the data it has on the accidents, however minor.
California enacted legislation in September that allows autonomous cars on its streets and highways, although each model must be tested and granted a permit. So far, Google hasn't applied for that permit, Automotive News reported.