Google's self-driving cars are getting an upgrade. The latest model trades in the kludgy, rack-mounted, rooftop LIDAR system for a marginally sleeker form factor – a thimble-shaped peduncle that looks like a police siren crossed with a Mac Pro. It's also getting real headlights!
In contrast to the gradual approach to autonomous driving advocated by automakers like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and General Motors, Google is going for what it calls a "moonshot." In the next five to 10 years, it plans to introduce a car that's so over the idea of human drivers, it won't even come with a steering wheel or pedals. That's the vision of this prototype, which will first be tested on a closed track, then on public roads after the New Year. Operators will have "temporary manual controls" and be ready to take over in case something goes wrong.
Google calls the car "the first real build" of its self-driving prototype, in a statement published this week:
The vehicle we unveiled in May was an early mockup—it didn't even have real headlights! Since then, we've been working on different prototypes-of-prototypes, each designed to test different systems of a self-driving car—for example, the typical "car" parts like steering and braking, as well as the "self-driving" parts like the computer and sensors. We've now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle—our first complete prototype for fully autonomous driving.
We're going to be spending the holidays zipping around our test track, and we hope to see you on the streets of Northern California in the new year. Our safety drivers will continue to oversee the vehicle for a while longer, using temporary manual controls as needed while we continue to test and learn. Happy holidays!