|Google’s latest prototype of its self-driving vehicle was unveiled Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. (Google photo)|
The dainty two-seater still requires government approval before it can legally operate without a human driver through suburban office parks or downtown streets, but the milestone is the latest sign that driverless cars could soon be a fixture in Silicon Valley neighborhoods and other parts of the world.
“I can imagine these cars starting in closed, campus environments, or cordoned-off test areas with low-speed roads where the risk of collision, injury or death is much lower,” said Ratna Amin, director of transportation policy at San Francisco-based urban advocacy group SPUR.
Google is now one of seven companies — from Nissan to Mercedes-Benz — that since September have won approval from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless cars on public roads. But with 25 test vehicles and 107 permitted drivers, Google appears far more invested in the public experimentation than its rivals — and it is the first company to unveil its own prototype, rather than just retrofitting other model cars with driverless software.
Google’s biggest victory in unveiling the new prototype might be the cutesy design that steers the public away from dystopian visions of crash-prone robot cars, said Mike Hudson, who tracks the automotive industry for eMarketer.
“It’s clearly a friendly vehicle, it has a little face, it wants to appear harmless,” Hudson said. “It’s goofy looking but in an interesting way. … It doesn’t look dangerous.”
Hudson said a company like Mercedes or BMW might make a more conventional looking car, but Google is still ahead of the game.
San Jose city leaders have been talking to Google about being one of the first Bay Area cities to openly welcome autonomous cars on city roads — at least some of them.