Continuing to shift gears from search engine to actual engine, Google's driverless car prototypes first displayed last May are currently "being developed and assembled at a Roush facility" near Detroit, reports the Detroit Free Press. For next steps, the fleet will undergo testing at Google facilities here in California this spring, and the new goal is to have them on the market by 2020.
A "team in the hundreds" is now on the project, divided between California and Detroit. Google execs were buttering up the Detroit folks as well, perhaps because driverless cars have been said to present a serious threat to the existing auto industry. "To say Silicon Valley is the only place where innovation happens is wrong," says Chris Urmson, director of Self-Driving Cars for Google. "It is not a crusty Detroit/shiny Silicon Valley. Anyone who thinks that is crazy."
Google is in talks with General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG, and Volkswagon AG to produce the car commercially. Yes, previously Google said they'd be on the road in CA by later this year. So with this news, that's true, it's just that you won't be not-driving them this year only Google will be doing that.
And as far as safety, there continues to be not that much to worry about. In 700,000 miles of test driving on public roads, Google cars have caused zero accidents. That's "caused" because they've been hit by other cars or hit other stuff while human drivers had them in manual mode. With another five years of tweaking, I don't think anyone should be too concerned about their actual safety, though of course they present all kinds of questions for the DMV and others. That said, according to the Wall Street Journal, Google is confident it can clear any red tape in the time between now and the 2020 commercial launch.
The pod-like design is supposed to appeal to customers in a friendly, cartoonish sort of way, Urmson explained. But the style has already divided many, so that could be another obstacle. Plus, there are a legion of existing automakers racing to get similar products on the road first, with many wagering that autonomous cars will reach us one step at a time, with software taking over tasks like parking or emergency maneuvers before getting us from A to B on their own.