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Google Self-Driving Car Heading to Public Streets

In this May 13, 2015 photo, a reporter walks toward Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

In this May 13, 2015 photo, a reporter walks toward Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

This summer, the latest version of Google's self-driving car will make its first appearance on public roads. The two-seat vehicle does not need a gas pedal or steering wheel. The prototype can drive, brake and recognize road dangers without human involvement. Google says the car is the first vehicle built for the purpose of self-driving.

However, the new vehicle is not designed for long trips. It does not have air bags or other safety devices required by the federal government. It cannot go more than 40 kilometers per hour. The vehicle is electric and has to be recharged after 130 kilometers. And it can only drive in areas that have been thoroughly mapped by Google.

Current California laws require all vehicles to have a steering wheel to guide the car and a gas pedal to control fuel use. The laws also require a driver to be able to take back control of a vehicle at any time. But, Google is working to change those laws.

Google will first build and test 25 driverless vehicles in areas around the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. Then, the company plans to build more and expand testing to areas that have more hills and more rain.

Eliminating human error

Sergey Brin is a co-founder of Google. He says the computer-controlled cars can eliminate, or end, driving mistakes made by humans. Experts say 90 percent of the 1.2 million yearly road deaths are caused by human error. Self-driving cars could also improve areas of high traffic and especially help older people and disabled people.

Google first announced that it was working on a driverless car in 2010. Mr. Brin says Google does not want to be a car company, but wants automakers to use its technology.

Critics worry about the safety of having cars without human drivers. And, Google admits there have been minor accidents in the six years it has been testing autonomous cars.

Chris Urmson says Google is proud of that record. Mr. Urmson is director of Google's self-driving car project. He says that Google's vehicles have completed about three million kilometers of testing. He says drivers in traditional cars caused all but one of the accidents.

Can it be trusted?

Critics also question the dependability of self-driving cars. They wonder if the cars can be trusted to work all the time. They also ask if such cars appeal to people.

In 2013, J.D. Power and Associates did a study of U.S. drivers. It found that only one in five was interested in a fully autonomous car.

Mr. Urmson says Google needs to do a better job of educating people about self-driving technology. He also says Google needs to better inform the public about its progress with the technology.

The company is building a website to do that. The site will include a monthly report that will include details of any accidents involving Google cars. It will also permit people to comment on any experiences they might have with the cars.

Still a long way to go

Google is not the only company developing self-driving cars. Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and others already have highly developed driver assistance systems that require little help from a driver. But other automakers think self-driving cars will be made available feature-by-feature instead of all at once. They say this gives people time to adapt to self-driving technology.

Mr. Brin says Google is still improving its plans for self-driving cars, but he's excited about their possibility.

Google hopes to have its driverless cars available in the next five years.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press reported this story. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

prototype n. an original or first model of something from which other forms are copied or developed

eliminate v. to remove (something that is not wanted or needed)

error n. something that is not correct; a wrong action or statement; a mistake

autonomous adj. existing or acting separately from other things or people; independent

adapt v. to change your behavior so that it is easier to live in a particular place or situation

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