Google Fully Functional Self-Driving Car ; artist's rendering, courtesy of Google

Google’s fully functional self-driving car ; artist’s rendering courtesy of Google

Google introduced its fully functional self-driving car on Monday, which CNN’s Heather Kelly calls “downright huggable.” Matt O’Brien writes for the San Jose Mercury News that the car’s “cutesy design” keeps the public from thinking of “dystopian visions of crash-prone robot cars,” as eMarketer’s Mike Hudson told him.

O’Brien quotes Hudson:

‘It’s clearly a friendly vehicle, it has a little face, it wants to appear harmless,’ Hudson said. ‘It’s goofy looking but in an interesting way…. It doesn’t look dangerous.’

When it rolls out onto public streets, Hudson said, ‘It’s going to be a lot of people’s first interaction with the technology. They’re putting a very, very soft touch on it. It’s a pretty savvy move.’

Indeed, both Kelly and Wired’s Alex Davies write that the fully functional Google driverless car looks like a koala bear. Davies notes that this new model’s obvious differences from the prototype introduced in May (which this blog wrote about) are it’s “real” (working) headlights and the LIDAR vision system’s new design, “which now sits flush on the roof, instead of on roof-mounted supports.” Kelly says the car’s dome-like shape is ideal for providing sensors with the widest field of view.

As O’Brien writes, Google still needs government approval before the cars can operate without a human driver on downtown streets or in suburban office parks, but the company plans to test it on San Francisco Bay area public roads in the new year. O’Brien writes that San Jose could be one of the first cities to “openly welcome” autonomous vehicles on at least some of its roads. This summer, that city created “a one-square-mile ‘North San Jose Transportation Innovation Zone’ to allow for experimentation of a variety of transportation technologies, from autonomous cars to solar-powered streetlights and electric vehicle charging stations, along 11 miles of roadway,” O’Brien writes.

Although Google’s new self-driving car has been designed without permanent driving features like a steering wheel and gas pedal, it has removable, temporary controls so that a human driver can take over if necessary, to comply with California law, Kelly writes. “The goal is to eventually remove any interior controls so that passengers can take a nap or knit while the car does all the work,” she adds.

Emil Protalinski writes for Venture Beat that Google is right when it calls this car “the best holiday gift we could have imagined.” And in a comment to Protalinski’s article, Luis Mata writes: “Congrats to the G team that made this happen.”

Google is not the only carmaker that has been testing autonomous vehicles on California’s roads. O’Brien lists the seven companies approved by that state to test self-driving cars on its roads since California’s Department of Motor Vehicles started implementing new rules in September. They include:

Volkswagen/Audi: Three test vehicles, 25 test drivers permitted; approved Sept. 11

Mercedes-Benz: Three vehicles, 12 drivers; Sept. 11

Google: 25 vehicles, 107 drivers; Sept. 11

Delphi Automotive: Two vehicles, nine drivers; Oct. 10

Tesla Motors: One vehicle, two drivers; Oct. 10

Bosch: Two vehicles, two drivers; Oct. 27

Nissan: Three vehicles, nine drivers; Oct. 28

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