The move represents another step toward the consumerization of autonomous vehicles. While the company has been testing its original self-driving cars - modified Toyota Lexus SUVs - on public roads for some time, the new prototypes are specifically designed as fully autonomous electric vehicles intended for carrying passengers to designated destinations.
The new two-seater prototype, which is being described as "pod-like" and "bubble shaped," can only go up to 25 miles per hour - as it does not meet federally required safety requirements - and uses the same software as the company's existing fleet of self-driving vehicles. During this next test phase of testing the vehicle will have a steering wheel that is removable and accessible - along with an accelerator and brake pedal - to a
"safety driver" that will accompany each ride.
Google's existing self-driving vehicles have logged almost a million autonomous miles on the road and are currently logging an additional 10,000 miles a week, says Chris Urmson, Director, Google Self-Driving Car Project. "So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on—in fact, it's the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience."