Google Driverless Car: Seats Two, No Steering Wheel

John Lister's picture

Google is set to build its own fleet of self-driving cars from scratch. The new autonomous cars will have no steering wheel, which will present significant legal hurdles in order to get them on the streets.

To date, Google has been working with traditional auto-makers to make what are effectively modified versions of existing vehicles, retrofitted with autonomous technology. The cars, which have been tested on public roads, have the usual steering wheel and pedals; pressing an emergency button allows the driver to take over the controls from the computer instantly.

How the Self-driving Cars Work

The autonomous cars are able to drive themselves, thanks to an extensive collection of sensors and cameras that keep track of objects around them, including moving objects such as other vehicles and people.

Google also recently revealed that it has extensively mapped some areas of the US in a more elaborate version of its Street View project. The 3D mapping means that the driverless cars know exactly how far physical objects such as curbsides and street lights are from one another. In turn, this allows the car to know its precise position at any time.

New Google Cars Have No Steering Wheel

Now, Google wants to take things a step further with a fleet of 100 driverless car prototypes that have no controls, other than a start and stop button. Unlike previous models, Google will build the cars themselves. The current prototype is electric and fits two passengers. (Source:

According to the company, the idea is to see what improvements can be made by starting the entire project from scratch. It's starting with a small low-key car that seats two people and includes a screen showing the planned route. For now, it will be limited to 25 miles per hour.

As with previous models, Google says the new prototypes can detect the speed and position of objects the equivalent of two football fields away. The prototypes can also detect potential changes of directions through indications, such as a cyclist making a hand signal or a traffic official holding up a manual stop sign. (Source:

Self-driving Car Might Never Be Street Legal

Google believes that the self-driving car is safer than a human driver because it can cope with multiple sources of information simultaneously and never loses mental concentration. The cameras all around the car also eliminate any potential for blind spots.

Turning these prototypes into retail vehicles will remain substantial legal a challenge, however. Google admits it will have to fit manual controls to test them on public streets for the time being. It's also questionable whether any state will ever license self-driving vehicles, especially where the human interaction is limited to pressing a stop button, and where there's no steering wheel involved.

What's Your Opinion?

What do you think of Google's self-driving car? Would you feel safe in an autonomous car with no steering wheel? Do you trust Google's ability to construct such a vehicle, compared to an automotive form? Do you have concerns about cars that rely so heavily on location data from one company?

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gi7omy's picture

Those can't be safe - it's fine having an automated GPS but what happens if there's a pile-up, traffic jam or a child runs out in the road in front?

It';s all very well saying there's a stop/start button but that means the operator (well they're hardly a 'driver') has to pay just as much attention to the road as manually driving (and that's not very likely to happen - they'd probably be browsing with their Google glasses)

funkyecat's picture

Once hackers get into the computer systems, there will be accidents galore.

BikeMobile's picture

From what I see by the hundreds daily, an automated driver would be much superior to the limited attention and skill in evidence on todays streets. Automated recognition and reaction to a child darting into the street would be immediate and from a vehicle traveling at or under the posted speed limit. Also, the automations could learn from each other's mistakes, getting better collectively, rather than learning to be worse as is the flock mentality of flesh and blood operators. (IMO, lots of operators, very few qualified drivers) As a compromise/initialization, I'd welcome a co-driver assistant calling out relevant observations instead of a passenger commenting "What's holding his pants up to his knees?, or "is that level of nudity allowed in a sunscreen poster".