Google is edging closer to mass-producing its self-driving cars, and it could even start selling such vehicles in the future.
When it introduced its self-driving car last year, Google revealed plans to build 100 such vehicles by the end of 2015. It now seems that Google is scaling up its efforts, planning to produce significantly more self-driving cars.
The news follows Google's recent move to push its fully autonomous car prototypes for testing in Austin, Texas, marking the first time it evaluates its self-driving vehicles outside California. Google built those prototypes from the ground up and wants to take things to the next level.
Sarah Hunter, Google X head of public policy, explained at the California Public Utilities Commission how Google plans to boost its self-driving car efforts.
"We're ... making a few hundred of them. We're making them to enable our team to learn how to actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up," said Hunter, as cited by The Guardian.
Google previously said it doesn't plan to make and sell self-driving car prototypes, instead preferring to team up with auto makers, but now the company seems to have changed its mind. Hunter stated that Google is mulling the possibility of manufacturing and selling such autonomous vehicles itself.
For now, Google's self-driving cars draw their power from electric batteries, but Google could go for some sort of hybrid engines for future models, Hunter further indicated.
"A model where we manufacture cars for sale will require the same sort of electric vehicle charging that exists today," explained Hunter. "Our prototype vehicles are fully electric. That's not to say the eventual vehicle we mass manufacture won't be a hybrid."
So far, an engineering company called Roush served as Google's manufacturing partner for the self-driving cars, assembling the vehicles on the outskirts of Detroit. If Google plans to start mass manufacturing its autonomous vehicles, however, it will need a far bigger facility, and it may take a few years.
In other words, Google's self-driving cars may not enter mass production anytime soon, but the company is nonetheless mulling the possibility of making and selling its own autonomous vehicles in the future.
Google's self-driving cars currently require a human driver to be in the car as well, ready to take control if necessary. Hunter said that before figuring out how to bring its self-driving cars to market and in which manner, Google first has to find a way to make the vehicles truly drive themselves. Once it has this down, the company will consider whether to mass manufacture the vehicles with plans to sell them to individuals, or keep them to itself to operate as a service.