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by Tim Beissmann

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Google’s self-driving car project has taken the next big step towards a future of fully autonomous vehicles.

The California-based company’s latest prototype may look like a cartoon character, but the technology beneath its bubbly body is anything but child’s play.

The two-door prototype has been designed to operate autonomously without requiring human intervention, and as such has no steering wheel and no pedals.

“We don’t need them,” Google says in a blog post. “Our software and sensors do all the work.”

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Google plans to roll out approximately 100 self-driving prototype vehicles in the coming months for its engineers and professional testers to drive.

The prototypes will have sensors that can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, allowing it to safely navigate intersections and traffic jams. The test cars’ speed will be capped at 40km/h.

Google says the cars will be very basic, allowing its engineers to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible.

“On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route – and that’s about it.”

Google says if this year’s internal testing goes well, it will launch a small pilot program in California “in the next couple of years”, in the hope of one day working with partners to bring the technology into the world safely.

The search engine giant has been an unlikely leader in self-driving vehicle development, with previous prototypes based on a second-generation Toyota Prius and Lexus RX.




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