In transition from its role as a tester of autonomous vehicles, Google’s subsidiary company Google Auto has announced that it will be building 100 prototype self-driving cars. In the past Google Auto has retrofitted Audi, Toyota, and Lexus vehicles for the testing of its autonomous driving technology, but the new prototypes be built from the ground up. They will each have VIN numbers and will be registered as lightweight low-speed vehicles capable of up to 25 mph.
The new vehicles look like a cross between a Smart car and a VW Beetle and will contain up to a 40 horsepower electric motor. What they will not contain are brakes, steering wheels, or accelerator pedals.
Google’s current fleet of autonomous vehicles has logged over 1 million miles of driving while being accompanied by a human operator. Currently, driverless cars must be accompanied by a human driver and are legal for testing in California, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida.
It is uncertain whether the decision to create the Google Auto subsidiary was for the purpose of selling vehicles to the public in the future, or to protect its parent company in the event of lawsuits caused by accidents involving its autonomous vehicles. Google’s fleet of 23 self-driving cars have been involved in 14 minor traffic accidents in recent years, though the company claims that the vehicles were either being manually operated, or the fault was with other drivers. Those who have observed the vehicles in operation notice that they are quite cautious compared to the average driver.
Plans for the release of a self-driving car to the public are estimated to fall on 2017 and beyond, but other automakers have taken notice. Mercedes, Audi, and BMW each recently purchased Nokia’s digital mapping technology “HERE,” the transactions totaling to $3.1 billion. If competing car makers want to have a chance, they have to be able to contend with Google’s more than 10 year experience in digital mapping.