Google's autonomous cars will present a plastic face to the world

Ryan Beene
AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

Published: May 28, 2014 10:25 am ET
Updated: May 28, 2014 10:29 am ET

Image By: Google Google created its prototype autonomous car to have a foam front end and plastic windshield for safety in a low-speed crash.

Related to this story

Topics Public Policy, Automotive

Google will launch its own fleet of autonomous vehicle prototypes — with no steering wheels and no gas or brake pedals, but a foam front end and plastic windshield — as the technology giant begins a new phase of its self-driving car project.

Google designed the car and plans to have about 100 test vehicles that are fully autonomous with extra safety features, company co-founder Sergey Brin said during a conference Tuesday hosted by technology blog Re/code in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

The New York Times reported that a Detroit-area manufacturer is building the cars for Google, which declined to name the manufacturer, according to the Times’ story.

In an announcement posted to the company’s blog late May 27, Google says it will begin testing the prototypes this summer. Early versions will include manual vehicle controls and will be tested by company “safety drivers,” Google said.

A small pilot program in California may follow “in the next couple of years” if steady progress is made on the project, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, wrote in the blog post.

By building its own prototypes, Google is entering a new chapter in its ambitious autonomous vehicle project, bringing the deep-pocketed tech giant closer to established automakers such as Volvo Car Corp. and Nissan Motor Corp. that have pledged to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road by the end of the decade.

700,000 miles

Google has been developing self-driving vehicle technology since 2009, using a fleet of test vehicles equipped with sensors, lasers, radar and computers that process mapping and drive software to allow their vehicles to be driven autonomously. Google says its test fleet has racked up some 700,000 miles of autonomous driving during so far.

The Google prototypes are small pod-shaped cars that appear to be the size of a Smart ForTwo with two seats and two doors.

The cars don’t have steering wheels, brake pedals or accelerator pedals “because they don’t need them. Our software and sensors do all the work,” Urmson wrote in the company’s blog post.

The prototypes, which have safety items such as additional foam at the bumper and a plastic-like windshield, are part of the company's research laboratory called Google X, which is led by Brin.

"We took a look from the ground up as to what it would be like if we had self-driving cars in the world," Brin said. "We've worked with partners in the Detroit area, Germany and California," he said without giving specifics. The prototypes let users ask for a destination address and then drives them to it, Brin said.

The cars are powered by an electric motor and have a top-speed limited to 25 mph. In its post, Google did not say whether the cars were based on an existing platform from an established automaker.

Some automakers have recently introduced vehicles equipped with advanced safety technologies that provide limited levels of autonomous driving.

The Acura RLX flagship sedan, for example, can drive on the highway without steering input from the driver for short periods. The car’s adaptive cruise control maintains a constant speed and safe distance between cars and objects on the road ahead while a lane-keeping system prevents the car from drifting out of its lane, but only for a few seconds before warning the driver to return his hands to the wheel.

In an interview with the Times, Brin said those kind of advancements didn’t measure up to Google’s ambitious goals for its autonomous car project.

“That stuff seems not entirely in keeping with our mission of being transformative,” Brin told the Times.

Growing market

Over the next two decades, self-driving cars are going to get a bigger share of the market. Such vehicles will reach 11.8 million in 2035, according to Egil Juliussen, an analyst at IHS Automotive.

And by 2050, he expects almost all cars to become self-driving. They are estimated to fetch premiums that will start at $7,000 to $10,000 in 2025, he said.

Brin said the Google vehicle is still being worked on at this point. "It's still early," he said. "We're still doing lots of development with the software, the hardware and the experience."


Comments

Google's autonomous cars will present a plastic face to the world

Ryan Beene
AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

Published: May 28, 2014 10:25 am ET
Updated: May 28, 2014 10:29 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Toyota says Mirai fuel cell sedan represents a 'new start' for the carmaker

March 2, 2015 11:55 am ET

Toyota Motor Corp.'s most advanced vehicle, a car that runs on hydrogen and emits only water, has had an ironically low-tech birth and has an equally ...    More

Image

SPE CEO points to 'open-source' trends as sign of need to share information

March 2, 2015 11:44 am ET

Willem De Vos, the CEO of the Society of Plastics Engineers, took a Plastics News Executive Forum audience on a wild ride into the future.    More

Image

Ukrainian crises eats into plans for building materials firm Masterplast

March 2, 2015 10:03 am ET

Hungarian building materials manufacturer Masterplast Nyrt. saw its earnings fall in 2014 after the worsening Ukraine crisis forced it to write off...    More

Image

Recycling trade group growing in size, resources

February 27, 2015 4:50 pm ET

DALLAS — The executive director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers is partial to calling his group the little engine that...    More

Image

Plastic Omnium makes China investment push

February 26, 2015 4:35 pm ET

Three of the six new plants that automotive molder Plastic Omnium SA plans this year will be in China, part of a broader push it’s making in Asi...    More

Market Reports

Flexible Packaging Trends in North America

North America represents about 30 percent of the global consumption of flexible packaging. Annual growth in this region is forecast at 4 percent during the next 5 years.

For more insight on growth opportunities, drivers of growth and the outlook for 2015, download this report.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 billion plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events