Bumpy Ride for Google's Self-Drive Cars

Image: Bumpy Ride for Google's Self-Drive Cars (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Monday, 25 Aug 2014 12:14 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Google's super-smart car that drives itself and has no steering wheel or gas and brake pedals has hit a roadblock.

The autonomous vehicle must pass strict new testing rules from California's Department of Motor Vehicles, which take effect next month, before getting the go-ahead for test rides on public roads, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The regulations stipulate that a driver must be able to take "immediate physical control" of a vehicle on public roads if needed, which means that the car must have a steering wheel and brake and accelerator pedals, according to Bernard Soriano, who helped to draw up the rules.

But Google, which can test prototypes on private roads or on public roads outside California, said it will adhere to the state's new rule by building a temporary steering-wheel and pedal system that drivers can use during testing.

"With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary," Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said.

To have the autonomous car one day allowed on city streets and highways in the Golden State, Google must first navigate several potential problems, such as insurance coverage and a dubious public.

The sort of car only seen in science fiction movies is a long-term project from the tech company that could eventually surpass the type of technology now being integrated in new vehicles by car manufacturers, such as self-parking and lane-straightening, the Journal said.

Google is building 100 prototypes with top speeds of 25 mph, which will allow for easy handling and reduced damage in crashes. Company executives are hoping that Californians will be driving them in test runs on public roads within a couple of years.
Google is also researching the possibility of using their smart cars as a taxi or courier service, the Journal noted.

Claire Hughes Johnson, an executive in the Google Self-Driving Car Project, said last month in a speech, "What if you all got here today in a self-driving car that dropped you off and then left? So you may not be able to buy one, but you may be able to drive in one in the next five years."

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