Google promised us this day was coming, and now it's here: A self-driving car is driving itself on public streets.
According to a blog post from late Wednesday night, the round and friendly-looking car will tool around the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View, where Google is based, at a Sunday-drive-like pace of 25 mph. Local note: The photo above, released with the announcement, appears to have been taken as the car drove on northbound San Antonio Road, near the Central Expressway overpass.
The self-driving car still has a human minder—fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you feel about this project. "They’re ultimately designed to work without a steering wheel or pedals," Google explained, "but during this phase of our project we’ll have safety drivers aboard with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal that allow them to take over driving if needed."
Coincidentally on Thursday morning, an executive at an automotive event told PCWorld and other journalists, "the self-driving car is still years away." That may be true, but that executive's caution stands in sharp contrast to the speed and zeal with which Google is tackling the same goal.
Keep an eye out, and if you see the self-driving car, let us know in the comments.
The impact on you at home: Unless you live in Mountain View, this is just the latest stage in the intriguing journey of Google's self-driving car project. Mercedes-Benz and Audi have already demonstrated self-driving cars on public roads, so Google's hardly the first. But Google does not bear the same burdens of traditional automakers, who must be mindful of customer suspicion and regulatory realities. It has more freedom to dream big, and its dreams will survive even the embarrassing news of a near-collision with a Delphi self-driving car on the same, apparently very busy San Antonio Road.