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 Automotive, Public Policy

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

Composite bridge maker also leading the way in installation

August 22, 2014 1:21 pm ET

Lightweight, low maintenance and strong, fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) bridge decks finally are crossing the line from specialty projects to wider...    More

Image

Investment firm specializes in emerging polymer firms in Ohio

August 21, 2014 3:20 pm ET

A plastics market veteran is working with an investment firm and a research foundation to help commercialize polymer technology in the Buckeye State.    More

Image

Non-recyclable items gumming up the works at recycling centers

August 21, 2014 3:46 pm ET

The influx of all sorts of unacceptable items at recycling centers has gotten to the point that Charlotte, N.C.-based ReCommunity is trying to bring...    More

Image

Automakers look under the hood for the next lightweighting opportunities

August 20, 2014 1:06 pm ET

The automotive industry's current favorite target for lightweighting efforts is the powertrain, according to a recent survey.    More

Image

Small country introducing plastic coins

August 20, 2014 10:48 am ET

You've heard of countries adopting plastic currency, to replace paper money. How about plastic coins, to replace metal? It's hard to believe but true....    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events