Here come’s Google’s new self-driving car. After a year of development, the car has earned permission from California’s DMV to drive on public streets and it’s doing so around Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.
I spent a couple of sweltering hot days on the lookout for it and got just a handful of glimpses.
That dome on the top is a laser imaging sensor that maps out the surroundings and there’s a second group of sensors in the front of the car between the headlights.
This is a three-way top, you’ll see the car comes to a halt almost perfectly on the stop line and then effortlessly navigates the junction. In normal use, passengers play no part in steering or controlling the car, so this is pretty impressive.
The car has to spot other road users, obstacles, pedestrians who might step into the road and other things like garbage and make a decision about what to do in realtime. That the company has come to this after just a few years of research shows the skills of the minds at work.
It has a top speed of just 25 miles per hour, which made it easy to follow.
On these residential streets with no lane markings and parked cars, it tended to drive closer to the center than a human might while constantly blinking hazard lights to warn other road users of its presence.
Several of the folks in this neighborhood were curious about my filming and we got into several conversations about the cars. They all seemed excited about the technology and that it was being tested in their neighborhood. Almost universally their reaction to the new car: cute. And it’s easy to see why.
This is what the previous generation looks like. They’re modified Lexus SUVs and look a bit more industrial with all the sensors bolted on. These are a very common sight around Mountain View these days and by the end of the summer, the new Google cars will probably be too.