Driver less cars are nothing new; not to sci fi fans anyway. When Google first announced that they were to create this vehicle there was as many shrugs of shoulders as there were ‘wows!’. With new info arriving all the time, and the latest patent being awarded this Tuesday, the 24th, we though it was high time we had a closer look at what we know so far about the vehicle Google claim will change the face of motoring forever.
Although the concept was first revealed back in 2005 there was a sticking point; driver less cars weren’t allowed on public roads. This is somewhat of a set back for any new motor but things they are a changing. Nevada led the way in 2011 by becoming the first US state to allow driver less vehicles and now 4 states, plus Washington D.C, have passed the legislation to allow them. More are set to follow suit hence the flurry of activity of late and the unveiling of the prototype last year. The plan then was to have 100 of these cars on the road by May of this year, and while this hasn’t come to fruition the project has moved forward in leaps and bounds.
When testing first began Google used at least 10 customised cars including 6 Toyota Prius, 3 Lexus RX450 and an Audi TT. Rumours were rife that the finished article would resemble one of these motors but considering that the driver less car is electric, which a maximum speed of 25MPH, that was soon dismissed. Hours and hours of testing was employed, using a pool of drivers with exemplary driving records and with the passenger seat inhabited by a Google engineer.
The car was put through its paces through the steep streets of San Francisco, renowned for its hairpin bends. It also travelled across the Golden Gate Bridge and onto Lake Tahoe. There was also much testing on tracks and round obstacles, results of which all came back with a gold star. A Video was posted on YouTube in 2012 showing Californian Steve Mahan letting the self driving Prius take him for a ride. Steve is legally blind, having lost 95% of his vision, and we see the pre-programmed route taking on a round trip from home via a drive-through restaurant and a dry cleaners.
The car drives at whatever speed limit which is stored in its maps and maintains its distance from other vehicles using a complex series of sensors. Drivers had the ability to override the system should they wish to take over the controls by turning the wheel or hitting the brake. Much like the cruise control used in many cars today. The latest prototype, however, has done away with the wheel and the brake pedal and there is a button to go between manual and driver less control.
The latest patent is for a unique system of external airbags which would deploy in the case of an accident to protect pedestrians. These would spring into action automatically should the car sense that it was about to collide with another vehicle. The patent states that using traditional bumpers et al would probably cause people to bounce off the vehicle this causing more injury. The Google solution is to add soft bumpers created from a “visco-elastic material”. While it isn’t specified in the patent exactly what this material is experts believe it will be something with a consistency between memory foam and earplugs.
As yet we have no idea when these cars will be sold publicly and Google intends to build 100 prototypes to use in their ‘pilot programme’. This teeny tiny car, with its 25mph top speed and only 2 seats is lauded as the ultimate city car and the vehicle which allows everyone to get behind a, erm, button. There is no doubt about the fact its a lot of fun but whether it makes the intended impact, or disappears down the Sinclair C5 route, remains to be seen.