Google's self-driving car: How many Googlers are driving this thing?

Test drivers, test bicyclists, test pedestrians...Google's video shows how many people it takes to help a car drive itself.

google self driving car orange coned test course may15 2015 11

It may drive itself someday, but not now

Google calls it a self-driving car, but as the video the company released Friday clearly shows, the project itself is driven by a small army of engineers, testers and other support staff.

They’re all busy prepping the bug-shaped prototype for its upcoming graduation to the public streets of Mountain View, Calif., where the company is based. For instance, in this shot, you can see two testers riding as it navigates one of the private courses it’s been using up to now.

How many Googlers does it take to train a self-driving vehicle? Follow along as we parse the video for more glimpses of the people behind the car.

google self driving car on lift in garage may15 2015 1

Hey buddy, could you give me a lift?

In this shot, two more Googlers tend to the self-driving car while it’s suspended on a hydraulic lift in a maintenance area. The neatly arranged boxes on the shelves tell us nothing about the contents, but what we can see looks a lot more electronic than mechanical. Googler tally: 4

google self driving car jaime waydo systems engineer may15 2015 2

From private tests to public streets

The self-driving car was introduced a year ago. So far, however, it’s been tested only on private property. Moving to public streets, where anything can happen, is a big step with a lot of testing leading up to it. “Every moment has been building towards putting these cars on the roads,” said Jaime Waydo, systems engineer for Google’s Self Driving Car Project. Googler tally: 5

google self driving car chris urmson director may15 2015 4

The latest prototypes arrived in December

According to Chris Urmson, director of Google’s Self Driving Car Project, the newer self-driving prototypes have been tested extensively since they arrived at Google in December of 2014. “We’ve now been able to do some reliability testing with it, and to make sure that everything really hangs together the way it’s supposed to before we get them out onto the roads,” Urmson said. 

By the numbers, Google says the test cars have driven almost a million miles so far. More recently, the cars have driven autonomously about 10,000 miles weekly. Googler tally: 6

google self driving car jaime waydo and colleague may15 2015 7

Awww, it's adorable!

Some people think Google’s self-driving car prototype is pretty cute. Some people think it looks like a scary clown. Let us know where you stand on this burning issue.

In this image, the Googler standing in front of systems engineer Jaime Waydo just brought fabric swatches to try on the car’s interior. You’ll see another peek at the interior a couple of slides later. Googler tally: 7

google self driving three male staffers inside may15 2015 8

It seats two people comfortably

Google’s self-driving car prototype seats two people and has a stop/start button. The test vehicle will have more controls, including a removable steering wheel.

But what’s that boxy thing embedded in the ceiling on the “driver-side” door? It couldn’t possibly be a handle with a coat hanger. We’ll ask Google; let us know if you have any guesses. Googler tally: 10

google self driving male staffer inside seatbelt may15 2015 9

Fasten your green-trimmed seatbelts

Google made a big deal about the presence of safety belts even in its first prototype. Here’s a tester showing off the same feature in the newer prototype. Notice the neon-green band of color on the seatbelt straps, and the neon-green/neon-blue coloring on the otherwise-empty dashboard. Googler tally: 11

google self driving two male staffers entering may15 2015 10

Let's roll!

Here’s the seatbelt Googler from the last slide and a colleague, getting into the self-driving car prototype. You get a clear view of the black-domed collection of sensors on its roof. Notice on the back, it already has a space for a license plate.

The freestanding machine to the right looks like a Signet charging station for this all-electric vehicle. Googler tally: 12

google self driving car two male staffers reliability bump track may15 2015 12

May the road rise to meet you

Here are the two people from the opening slide, riding in Google’s self-driving car prototype as it works hard to prove itself. Jaime Waydo listed some of the tests: “We’ve made the car hot, we’ve made the car cold, we’ve done durability testing, we drive it through a reliability bump track.”

In the video, the car rolls blithely over the bump track without veering off course. I wonder about the ride quality for the two people inside, though. 

google self driving car pedestrian test manager may15 2015 13

Operation Crosswalk is a go. Repeat: It's a go.

Before Google's self-driving car can try its mettle on public roads, it's spending many hours in simulated traffic situations. This Googler is managing a test of pedestrian detection, which you'll see in action in the next slide. Googler tally: 13

google self driving car pedestrian test may15 2015 14

Why did the man with the red ball cross the road?

In this traffic simulation, four Googlers play pedestrian as the self-driving car makes it way toward them on this private road. (You can see the woman with the walkie-talkie from the prior slide, standing under the tree to the right.)

The two people carrying large, brightly colored objects are probably testing whether the car can still recognize people when something else, like an umbrella or a package, changes their visual shape. We'll ask Google and let you know. Googler tally: 17

google self driving car no driver on road car bicyclists may15 2015 17

Bicyclists and cars simulate real-world conditions

On public roads, you’ll encounter a mix of vehicles and people going every which way. In this controlled test on private roads, Google’s self-driving car turns left, while bicyclists cross the intersection and another test car passes behind it. Notice the bicyclists are riding Google’s own fleet of rainbow-colored two-wheelers. Googler tally: 19

google self driving car no driver on road car staffers may15 2015 18

The boss gets to control the remote

The self-driving car is driving solo in this shot, but it's definitely not alone. Four staffers look on while project director Chris Urmson, in the baseball cap, starts the car remotely. Two more staffers in the minivan behind it are ready to simulate surrounding traffic. We've seen Urmson and one of the others before, so the Googler tally stands at 24.

google self driving car back of truck may15 2015 3

Almost ready for its learning permit

That's a couple of dozen Googlers we've seen in this video, and those are just the ones who made the final cut.

Google's self-driving car will finally have access to public roads sometime in the summer of 2015. Until then, it needs to be transported to its test locations. 

According to Google, the prototypes' initial driving style will be extremely tame—limited to 25 miles per hour, with safety drivers ready to take over at any time. At that sedate pace, it'll attract tailgaters as well as gawkers. 

Watch the roads of Mountain View and let us know if you see it!

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