By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Editor, Fleet Management Weekly
Google will build 100–200 prototype driverless electric cars by the end of the year. Company Co-founder Sergey Brin revealed the project last week. It’s a plastic, bubble-shaped two seater without steering wheels or brakes, except that current state laws require them and during early testing, company drivers can still take control with familiar devices.
Top speed is 25 mph. It’s not clear whether Google plans ultimately to manufacture the vehicles if they prove to be successful, or seek a partnership with an auto manufacturer or a tier one supplier. One rumor is that the prototypes will be built by Roush Industries, an engineering, design and manufacturer. In recent years, Roush has been prominent in equipping vehicles to operate on propane.
Google’s initial target is for an urban vehicle. Cristopher Urmson, director of the Google driverless vehicle project, wrote in a blog: “Ever since we started the Google self-driving car project, we’ve been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving. Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.”
Google also envisions the use of vehicles as driverless taxicabs, and Uber has already announced its interest in eventually using driverless vehicles.
Nobody imagines that driverless vehicles will be here soon, there’s little doubt that fleets would be the first to welcome them. Imagine putting their employees to work while they were driving. Dr. Urmson makes a strong case on why we need driverless cars. But before everyone gets too excited, remember that automakers have been seriously interested in driverless cars for at least 15 years. Here’s a nice contrarian summary of some of the past and future problems.