Google has unveiled its first fully functional prototype of its self-driving car, which has been approved for testing on the roads of Northern California.
News of Google's work on developing self-driving cars first made headlines in 2010. Fast forward more than four years from the time, Google has finally come up with its first real prototype that works as imagined.
The past several months has seen Google rolling out several "prototypes of prototypes," which were designed to test the various systems of the self-driving car, from the steering and braking systems to the sensors and self-driving parts.
"We've now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle -- our first complete prototype for fully autonomous drive," said Google in a Google+ post. "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."
The new prototype looks very similar to the early mock-up Google unveiled in May, which did not even have headlights. Aside from the addition of headlights, Google's prototype features a small, sleek, black cap for the LIDAR system, which "sees" where the car is going, in place of the old strange-looking device mounted on top of the car.
Earlier this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles passed new rules for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, with the condition that companies testing self-driving cars have a human driver behind the wheel and $5 million for liability insurance.
"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," Google said.
Google is not the only company in the world that is working on autonomous vehicles, as Toyota, Nissan, Audi and Mercedes also have their elbows deep in their own self-driving car projects. Google has been looking for a car company to work with to make commercially viable self-driving cars by 2022. The search began as early as 2012, when then head of Google's self-driving car project Anthony Levandowski said that the company was turning its sights to Detroit.
"We don't particularly want to become a car maker," said Chris Umson, current director of Google's self-driving car project. "We are talking [with] and looking for partners."
Car company executives, however, are said to be reluctant to partner with Google because they are concerned about what Google's effect could be on their own efforts to build their brand. Furthermore, Google's end goal is to build a self-driving car that requires zero input from the driver, but automakers believe the approach is too risky.
Umson believes Google's self-driving cars make better city drivers than human beings, saying the car is equipped with improved software that can simultaneously recognize multiple objects, such as a pedestrian, a stop sign held by a traffic enforcer or a cyclist making hand signals.
"A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can't -- and it never gets tired or distracted," Umson said.