GOOGLE’S ADORABLE SELF-DRIVING car prototype hits the road this summer, the tech giant announced last week. Real roads, in the real world. The car has no steering wheel or pedals, so it’s up to the computer to do all the driving.
As cool as this sounds, it isn’t a huge technological step forward. The goofy little cars use the same software controlling the Lexus and Toyota vehicles that have logged hundreds of thousands of autonomous miles, and Google’s spent the past year testing its prototypes on test tracks. And, in keeping with California law, there will be a human aboard, ready to take over (with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal) if the something goes haywire.
What’s important here is Google’s commitment to its all-or-nothing approach, which contrasts with the steady-as-she-goes approach favored by automakerslike Mercedes, Audi and Nissan.
Autonomous vehicles are coming. Make no mistake. But conventional automakers are rolling out features piecemeal, over the course of many years. Cars already have active safety features like automatic braking and lane departure warnings. In the next few years, expect cars to handle themselves on the highway, with more complicated urban driving to follow.