Google has demonstrated its own driverless car, a design that does away with all conventional controls including the steering wheel, and says it will build 100 of the vehicles for testing with the eventual aim of "bringing this technology to the world safely".
The company had for several years been testing everyday cars equipped with sensors, navigation equipment and computers to drive themselves but in the meantime it has secretly developed a prototype from scratch that will have no facility for a human to take control, other than an emergency stop button.
An initial 100 testbed versions would retain manual controls, Google said as it unveiled the car on Tuesday. The controls are needed to comply with the law in California which along with Nevada and Florida allows autonomous vehicles but only if a driver can take charge.Google's driverless car in action.
Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, said the aim was to run extended tests in California where Google is based. Urmson argued driverless cars would improve road safety, calling the development "an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people".
Google said its testing had suggested it was safer to remove conventional controls altogether because the results of a human having to take over suddenly and unexpectedly were unpredictable and potentially dangerous. “We saw stuff that made us a little nervous,” Urmson told the New York Times.
The toy-like concept vehicle has two seats, a screen displaying the route and a top speed of 25mph (40km/h). An array of sensors allows the vehicle's computer to determine its location and surroundings and it can "see" several hundred metres, according to Google.