Google has announced plans to ramp up production of prototypes of its self driving cars, ahead of previously announced manufacture time lines. Details of the move suggest that Google is firmly on its way to being a mass manufacturer of self driving electric cars.
When the company unveiled the two seater, low speed, cars last year it stated it planned to build 100 cars by the end of 2015, but earlier this week the head of policy for GoogleX, Sarah Hunter, said: “We're … making a few hundred of them. We’re making them to enable our team to learn how to actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up.”
Hunter hinted at possibly moving towards mass manufacturing at the announcement which came as Google took its cars out of California for the first time, introducing them to the streets of Austin, Texas.
“A model where we manufacture cars for sale will require the same sort of electric vehicle charging that exists today,” Hunter said. “Our prototype vehicles are fully electric. That’s not to say the eventual vehicle we mass manufacture won’t be a hybrid.”
Google has formed its own car company Google Auto to manufacture the driver-less cars which come without steering wheels, accelerator or brake pedals. Despite the clear evidence that Google is building cars it has previously said it had no plans to market the prototypes of the car, talking only of possible partnership arrangements with established car manufacturers. The Google self-driving cars have so far been assembled by its manufacturing partner Roush, an engineering firm on the outskirts of Detroit.
Hunter also revealed new details of how the Google car works. “All the car has is a ‘go’ button, a ‘please slow down and stop’ button and a ‘stop pretty quickly’ button,” said Roush. “The intention is that the passenger gets in the vehicle, says into microphone, take me to Safeway, and the car does the entire journey.”
“We haven’t decided yet how we're going to bring this to market,” added Hunter. “Right now, our engineers are trying to figure out … how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once we figure that out, we'll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that we manufacture at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that we own and operate as a service?”
Meanwhile Ashwini Chhabra, policy manager at Uber, which is developing its own self-driving vehicles said “We have a shared goal which is getting people out from behind the wheel of single occupancy vehicles and into safer, more efficient modes of transit.”
Travis Kalanick, Uber's CEO believes autonomous taxis will reduce the cost of journeys to below that of owning a car which Chhabra said would enable traffic-busting carpool vehicles, reduce emissions, and dramatically improve road safety.
“If global demand keeps steady, we’ll have 3.4 billion cars on the planet by 2050,” he said. “That’s clearly not sustainable. That’s part of why we’re thinking about how to stop carmageddon, which of all the -geddons is one of the scarier ones.”
Chhabra said he believes fully self-driving vehicles will be in fairly general use by 2035 although research conducted by Berkley university has pointed to a 2075 date.