Where’s the wheel? Google snips out manual steering on its latest driverless car

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Google’s self-driving prototype vehicle may look like an underdeveloped Pokémon, but make no mistake about it: this car is going to change the world.

Google’s driverless car project has been officially active since 2011, when, thanks to lobbying by the technology company, Nevada passed a law permitting the operation of autonomous vehicles. Since then, Google has worked tirelessly to build a functioning prototype, and it’s finally here.

As detailed in a Top Gear report, Google’s driverless car has two seats, a navigation screen, and that’s about it. No steering wheel, no pedals, and no indicators: just a button to start and a button to stop.

Google’s robot cars need about $150,000 of equipment to drive on their own, which includes a roof-mounted range finder that uses frickin’ laser beams to map its environment in 3D. An array of sensors, software, and electronics uses the information from the range finder to eliminate blind spots and navigate around obstacles, all at a limited (for now) 25 mph. Google is building 100 prototypes in anticipation for extensive testing this summer.

Worried about safety? As of August 2012, Google’s self-driving cars logged over 300,000 autonomous miles, accident free. Think about it: robots don’t get tired, they don’t get intoxicated, and they don’t get distracted or angry … hopefully. In fact, the only incidents Google’s self-driving cars have had was when when a human took over the controls. Silly organics.

The benefits of autonomous driving are nearly limitless. As we said, they’re safer than normal cars. They’re also convenient, allowing drivers to eat, work, play, or even nap while they zip around. Since there are no controls, autonomous cars can help eliminate the dangers of intoxicated driving. And as you’ll see in the video below, they allow those who cannot drive more freedom than they’ve ever had before.

“Our lives are made up of lots and lots little things, and a lot of those little things, for most people, have to do with getting from place to place,” said Steve, a blind volunteer who rode in Google’s prototype. “There’s a big part of my life that’s missing, and there is a big part of my life that a self-driving vehicle would bring back to me.”

We’re still a long way off from seeing these cars in dealerships, but Chris Urmson, Director of Google’s Self-Driving Cars Project, is happy with the progress they’ve made thus far.

“This is the first step for us, and it’s really exciting to see the progress we’ve made,” he raved. “The opportunity for people to just move around and not worry about it, it’s going to be incredibly empowering and incredibly powerful for people.”