Google reveals plans to increase production of self-driving cars

The race for autonomous cars is heating up. As Google’s self-driving cars venture outside California for the first time, arriving on the streets of Austin, Texas, this week, the company has revealed its plans to build many more fully autonomous prototypes, and possibly move towards mass manufacturing.
When Google introduced the low-speed, two-seater electric cars last year, it said it was going to build just 100 vehicles by the end of 2015. But speaking at the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, Sarah Hunter, head of policy for GoogleX, 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.”
Last month, the Guardian revealed that Google had set up its own car company, Google Auto, to manufacture the completely driverless cars without steering wheels, brake or accelerator pedals. While Google says it has no plans to market these prototypes, and has previously talked about partnerships with established car companies, Hunter admitted that it is now considering making and selling self-driving cars itself.
“A model where we manufacture cars for sale will require the same sort of electric vehicle charging that exists today,” she told an audience of regulators and politicians. “Our prototype vehicles are fully electric. That’s not to say the eventual vehicle we mass manufacture won’t be a hybrid.” All the cars built so far have been assembled on the outskirts of Detroit by Google’s manufacturing partner, the engineering firm Roush. Any move into mass manufacturing would require a much larger facility and is probably years off.
Hunter also shared new details about how the existing driverless prototypes work. “All [the car] has is a ‘go’ button, a ‘please slow down and stop’ button and a ‘stop pretty quickly’ button,” she said. “The intention is that the passenger gets in the vehicle, says into microphone, take me to Safeway, and the car does the entire journey.”
Google’s self-driving cars currently require highly detailed maps of the areas they’re operating in, with centimetre accuracy of road features like lanes, roundabouts and traffic lights. They are also limited to 25mph so that Google could get them on to public roads without expensive and time-consuming crash tests. Even more importantly, they need safety drivers able to take control back in an instant if the system malfunctions. California is slowly working on regulations that will pave the way for the operation of completely driverless vehicles by the public.