• Google has built an autonomous vehicle prototype
  • Tiny self-driving vehicle seats two, includes no steering wheel or pedals
  • Google says it'll build 100 prototypes overall

It may be known for its powerful Web search engine, but Google has officially built a self-driving car. Based out of California, the tech giant recently announced details about the currently unnamed autonomous vehicle, which offers two doors, two seats and a tiny interior.

On the outside, Google's car looks like a modern microcar, with its tiny stature and small wheels and tires. Finished in white and silver, the Google car features a roof-mounted laser to generate a map of the road ahead, while software inside the car compares the laser-generated map to preprogrammed maps of the same area. The car also includes a host of exterior-mounted radar systems, which help the car to obey traffic laws and bring it to a stop should an object enter its path.

Inside the car, things are pretty bare. There are two seats, two cup holders and a small storage bin, but no steering wheel, pedals, or control stalks for the wipers or turn signals. In fact, interior trimmings mostly consist of a start/stop button and a touchscreen that displays the car's route.

When Can I Get One?

So what does the arrival of the autonomous car mean for shoppers? At the moment, not much. While Google says it will build about 100 self-driving prototypes over the next few months, the company hasn't announced if, or when, they'll go on sale. Interestingly, Google has said that the 100 prototypes will include a steering wheel and pedals, which will allow the driver to take over if something goes wrong.

Are we any closer to seeing autonomous cars in dealerships? While Google's latest vehicle brings us one step closer to the arrival of autonomous cars, we're still a long way from widespread sales. Although Google has now had autonomous vehicle technology for several years, nationwide adoption is a slow process -- and the technology is probably very expensive. Additionally, it's not known whether self-driving cars can handle certain road conditions, such as inclement weather or even nighttime driving.

Information Sharing

With increasing concerns about privacy, and what some feel is an overly cozy relationship between the government and telecom companies, is everyone really OK with their comings and goings being logged into a database? If this were to ever work, we also fear that the interior would be full of ads, perhaps suggesting a lunch special based on your previous destinations.

In order for this to be viable, the Google cars either have to be crashworthy enough to travel with traditional cars or have a separate road, rail or track system. Or we'd need to get rid of human-controlled cars altogether.

With that said, there's little doubt that Google -- and others -- will continue to move forward with autonomous cars as time goes on.

What it means to you: The autonomous vehicle is here, but there may be a long way to go before it's everywhere.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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