Google's Electric, Autonomous Test Car Looks Happy, Has No Steering Wheel

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This is probably not the car you'll be whisked around cities in, in the future.

Which is either a good or bad thing, depending on how much you like cars that look like koala bears on a substance recently legalized in Colorado.

But it is Google's latest, dedicated test vehicle for its autonomous car technology--an electric, steering-wheel and brake-less pod set to embark upon pilot projects in Google's home state of California.

Previously, Google's autonomous testing vehicles have been adaptions of commonly-available cars--the Toyota Prius, for example, or the Lexus RX 450h.

But, reports The New York Times, Google's engineers have had trouble with one major factor in the autonomous car equation: the human.

Making a driverless car hasn't been that difficult. In hundreds of thousands of miles of testing, the cars haven't yet crashed into anything under their own instruction.

But designing a driverless car in which the human passenger may need to take over at any point hasn't been so easy.

A human driver may be reading, or daydreaming, or even sleeping. They may not be any better at dealing with a given situation than the car itself is--so the easiest thing to do is simply remove them from the equation.

Google's Self-Driving Lexus RX450h

Google's Self-Driving Lexus RX450h

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"We saw stuff that made us a little nervous," said Christopher Urmson, one of Google's car project directors, of the company's autonomous and self-driven testing.

Google employees had been using the vehicles for their commutes to work, but the data Google got back led Google to work on vehicles that wouldn't need a human driver in any situation.

To us, that has a fairly clear, slightly Orwellian and very science-fiction message: The autonomous car was much easier to trust than the fallible, distracted bags of meat behind the wheel.

Google isn't taking any chances with its test car though, even though the little electric bubble is only designed for 25 mph speeds and campus-type driving tasks.

The front of the car is made from foam, just in case it doesn't spot a pedestrian when scanning 600 feet in all directions. That could make it the comfiest car ever to be run over by--though the likelihood of it making such a mistake is low.

It does have rear-view mirrors too, a hangup of Californian laws--though they're of limited use to the passengers inside.

Californian laws also require a degree of human control right now, so Google's first prototypes will have all the normal fixtures. But Google hopes to persuade regulators its cars can operate without that human safety net--so watch this space.

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