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Google's Self-Driving Car: Now Without a Steering Wheel!

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Google unveils a self-driving car that completely eliminates the need for a steering wheel or foot pedals.

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A car that doesn't need a steering wheel or a brake pedal. It sounds like a salesman's pitch from a vaudevillian routine, but it's actually proof that Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) autonomous cars have become exceptionally advanced and no longer require a human behind the wheel.
 
It's been years since Google started granting us glimpses at its self-driving car project. Until now, vehicles made by Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Lexus -- complete with steering wheels and brake pedals -- were retrofitted with equipment to render it "self-driving," but would still allow a driver to grab the wheel and take over should the software fail en route. And as of a month ago, the project team had logged over 700,000 miles of autonomous driving and tackled "thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped [them] two years ago." (See: Google's Driverless Cars Are Already Better Motorists Than Most Humans.)
 
Although a remarkable achievement and a harbinger of the future of transportation, the technology featured in those vehicles could still be considered "glorified cruise control" given the need of a driver's attention. But this week, Google unveiled a new two-seater self-driving prototype that lets passengers literally sleep at the wheel -- if there actually was one.
 
Looking more like a PlaySkool car than a street-legal vehicle, the car is nonetheless a marvel. Taking the company's self-driving technology more than a few steps further, the car operates at the push of a button -- just the one, actually -- and whisks passengers to their destinations at a pokey 25 miles per hour. Yes, this prototype isn't ideal for when you're late for work, but if you need some extra shut-eye before arriving at the office, it sure beats the public bus.
 
Chris Urmson, Director of the Self-Driving Car Project, explained his team's goal on Google's official blog:

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.
 
Initially, Google plans on on building roughly 100 vehicles for testing this summer with early models featuring your standard steering wheel and foot pedals -- much like the company's self-driving cars we've already seen. But once the experimental phase is complete, Urmson said he hopes to launch a small pilot program in California over the next few years.
 
With exciting updates and demonstrations every few months, Google is clearly the forerunner of self-driving technology. Previous claims that autonomous vehicles will be available to the public before the decade ends once seemed like a total pipe dream. But after witnessing the company's progress, we just might see completely different roadways by 2020.
 
Check out Google's new prototype in action below.


 
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