Google's dream of a steering-wheel free future is reportedly being curtailed

Google’s plan of creating a futuristic fleet of self-driving, steering-wheel-free cars is being put on the backburner, as the company focuses on more practical uses for its automotive technology, according to a new report from The Information’s Amir Efrati.

The company’s self-driving car group is partnering with Fiat Chrysler and introducing a line of autonomous vehicles that have traditional driving features for humans, according to the report. The goal with that fleet is to potentially have a robo-taxi service online by the end of 2017.

The new plan signals the changing competitive landscape, as Google feels pressure from Uber, the ride-sharing service that has stolen Google’s thunder as the leading innovator in the race to develop self driving cars.

And it represents a big retreat for Google and its lofty vision of pod-shaped cars that do away with steering wheels and gas pedals, and let passengers completely tune out from the driving process.

Google’s “Chauffer” self-driving car group, which is currently housed within the Alphabet parent company’s X unit, is still on track to get spun out as its own Alphabet company, according to The Information.

And while Alphabet CEO Larry Page is still excited to develop a fully autonomous vehicle (no steering wheel needed), he apparently came to the decision with CFO Ruth Porat that the Chauffer unit needed to focus on building a business using the technology first. Still, Google’s pivot means it’s moving away from the grand vision that once set it apart.

While Google has been working for years on a self-driving car, it has little to show for it outside of the flashy press demos and line of “Koala” cars that snake through Mountain View at a top speed of 25 miles per hour. In November, the company had 34 prototypes on the road around the US compared to 24 Lexus SUVs. Still, all of the cars are fastidiously still in testing.

Meanwhile, Uber has surged ahead to launch a commercial facing trial of its technology, running a pilot of its autonomous taxi system in Pittsburgh.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read the full report from The Information here (subscription required).

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