Google Self-Driving Car Hits The Road In Fully Functional Prototype

Google's self-driving car project has crossed a new milestone with the unveiling of its first fully functional prototype. The team behind the project will spend the holidays testing the newest build on its private track with the hope (and goal) of having it ready to hit the open road in Northern California sometime next year. In the meantime, Google's safety drivers will go along for the ride and intervene with manual controls as needed.

"The vehicle we unveiled in May  was an early mockup—it didn’t even have real headlights! Since then, we’ve been working on different prototypes-of-prototypes, each designed to test different systems of a self-driving car—for example, the typical 'car' parts like steering and braking, as well as the 'self-driving' parts like the computer and sensors," Google said in a blog post. "We’ve now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle—our first complete prototype for fully autonomous driving."

Self Driving Car

Google's latest prototype looks like something you'd expect to see zipping around Disneyland -- all it needs is a big set of Mickey Mouse ears and perhaps a bit of paint. But you won't find these cars in theme parks.

Ratna Amin, director of transportation policy at San Francisco-based urban advocacy group SPUR, envisions the self-driving cars starting off in "close, campus environments, or cordoned-off test areas with low-speed roads where the risk of collision, injury, or death is much lower."

Wherever the cars end up, Google will need government approval before it can send one of them off without a human driver. That may be closer than you think, as for now, Google is one of seven companies that since September have won approval from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving cars on public roads.