Washington – Google announced on Friday that the latest version of its driverless car will be hitting public roads in California this summer, right on the heels of the company's admission this week that trial runs of self-driving vehicles have been involved in 11 “minor accidents” over the past six years.
The new driverless cars will be easy to spot on the roads. The prototypes are bubble shaped and have oval headlights and a grill that give the vehicles a smiling, cartoonish expression. While the vehicles will be autonomous, relying on Google's advanced radar technology, they will have “safety drivers” on board who can take over the wheel in an emergency.
The vehicles will also start out pretty slow: “Each prototype's speed is capped at a neighborhood-friendly 40km/h,” the company's blog post said. The company did not say how many cars would drive on the road.
In a blog post Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car programme, acknowledged that some of its self-driving Lexus vehicles, which have been tested on roads, were in minor accidents.
But Urmson said that the driverless cars were not at fault in any of the incidents.
That has been hard to verify because police reports related to accidents are not released publicly by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Google did not release the details, either.
Unlike the Lexus cars, the new prototypes from Google were designed by the Mountain View, California-based company from the ground up.
Google said that self-driving cars will be a revolution for personal transportation.
“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,” the company said in the Friday blog post.
Other car manufacturers and industry analysts agree. Most auto experts believe autonomous cars will be common on roads within five years.
Ford, Audi, Nissan, BMW and others also have been experimenting with self-driving vehicles.
And some models available in dealerships already offer a measure of the technology, such as self-parking and vehicles that can sense a potential collision and apply the brakes automatically. – Washington Post