Google says it is hoping to release its fully functional self-driving cars into American streets in 2020. However, these will be test vehicles and Google will still need to gather data from them to make them better.
Speaking at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Chris Urmson, head of Google's self-driving car project, said he wanted the vehicles to be fully autonomous and reach a point where human drivers would no longer need to pilot the vehicles. That means removing the steering wheel and the brake pedals that Google added to its test vehicles currently being examined at a facility in California.
"What we really need is to get to the point where we're learning about how people interact with it, how they are using it, and how can we best bring that to market as a product people care for," Urmson said.
Google is currently working on cameras and sensors that can detect and recognize permanent and temporary road signs as well as moving objects, such as bikers and pedestrians, along with the software to analyze data and synthesize them so that they make sense for the vehicle.
However, Urmson emphasized that Google is not a car company and needs the help of established car manufacturers to achieve its objective of bringing self-driving cars to public roads in five years. Google has already developed its own fleet of bulbous-looking self-driving car prototypes, the first fully functioning prototype which Urmson says provides a "practical, near-term testing platform" that will continue to improve over time.
For this fleet, Google is working with Detroit-based Roush Enterprises, a company that builds prototypes for the auto industry, to develop 150 self-driving cars for Google. Other partners include Bosch, Continental, LF Electronics and NVIDIA to supply the various components of Google's self-driving car prototype.
Google is not done recruiting partners for the future builds of its self-driving cars. Among the car companies already participating in talks with Google include General Motors (GM), Ford, Toyota, Daimler and Volkswagen.
Speaking to reporters two days before Urmson's talk, GM chief technology officer Jon Lauckner said GM, which has worked with Urmson on a self-driving car that won a DARPA challenge in 2007, will need to determine what kind of working relationship Google will have with GM.
"You have to figure out how would something like that actually work," he said. "Would it be something where it would be an opportunity to work together in a joint development agreement? I'd say probably anybody who's interested to at least get over and kick the tires."