Google has logged hundreds of thousands of miles with its self-driving cars. When the vehicles have been in “autonomous mode” (translation: driver not in control), they have never had an accident. But up to this point, Google has been adding its self-driving technology to existing production vehicles for testing purposes.
Google would like to change that. And it’s an unexpected change.
The company plans to build “about 100” of the small, low-speed microcars — some have called them “pod cars” or “podmobiles” — that it showed to the public back in May, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Alistair Barr. The pods lacked steering wheels and pedals, the better to demonstrate their complete lack of a need for a traditional driver.
In Google’s vision of the future, we’re all passengers.
But the podmobiles also looked like something that should be navigating sidewalks, not freeways, and so no one immediately concluded that Google was about to make the leap from outfitting production cars from Toyota and Audi with self-driving technology to actually assembly the self-driving Car of Tomorrow.
However, Google now wants to take the podmobiles out on the open road. But California — where Google is headquartered and has done most of its self-driving car testing — says that the company can’t until it equips the vehicles with controls that a human driver can take over if something goes wrong.
And so, as Barr notes, Google will “comply with the California rule by building a small, temporary steering wheel and pedal system.”
Here’s what that means: Google just became a carmaker. Because if it only has wheels and seats and windows, it’s not a car — it’s a conveyance. If it has a steering wheel and pedals, it’s a car.
A GOOGLE car.
Move over Tesla. There’s a new car company in Silicon Valley.
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