Google's been hacking regular cars to make them drive themselves for a while now, but at the Code Conference today Sergey Brin showed off the next step: an entirely new self-driving car designed from the ground up. The project looks something like a smaller Smart car, and it lacks any human control whatsoever: no steering wheel, no pedals, no gearshift. It doesn't even have mirrors. It's just two seats and a window, and you simply call it to come get you, sit down, and let it drive you to your destination. This is my dream.
"We actually designed these with some safety features that haven't been seen," said Brin. "There's about two feet of foam on the front, and the windshield is made of glass, but it's a plastic glass." Brin said Google used automotive suppliers and car parts, but those parts have been customized. "We plan to go up to about one or two hundred of these, they're prototypes," he said. "There's no reason they couldn't go 100 miles an hour or faster once you can prove that they can do that safely." Brin said the car can be made "far safer" than human-driven cars, and that the current programming is "more defensive" than the average human driver: it waits to go on green, and it uses lasers to monitor the complete 360-degree field around itself.
"I'm certainly not advocating that we get rid of all cars that do not drive themselves," said Brin, although he wants some of his safety features to hit the mass market. "We worked with partners to build these prototypes, and we'll work with partners to build these." The cars will hit the road before the end of the year with safety drivers who can control the car with a joystick, but don't get too excited. "I think these being broadly available will take several years," said Brin.
"I did feel like I was on a Disney ride," said Recode's Kara Swisher, who took a ride in the prototype. "I wanted a drink. I wanted to drink while texting."