Google’s Self-Driving Pod Cars Hit the Road

No steering wheel or gas pedal is required for the electric vehicles that could make a big dent in carbon pollution.
(Photo: Google)
Jun 26, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

The pod people are coming.

Google’s self-driving pod cars took to the streets of Silicon Valley this week as the search giant began testing the electric vehicles beyond closed-off parking lots.

“These prototype vehicles are designed from the ground up to be fully self-driving,” an anonymous Google scribe wrote on the Google Self-Driving Car Project Google+ page Thursday. “They’re ultimately designed to work without a steering wheel or pedals, 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.”

(Photo: Google)

The cartoonish two-seaters, which look sprung from the imagination of a Pixar animator, are meant to ferry people around cities and are speed-limited to 25 miles per hour. If self-driving car services, particularly battery-powered ones, overcome regulatory and safety concerns and make it to market, they could conceivably replace the need to own fossil fuel-polluting personal vehicles. The computer-controlled cars could also reduce traffic jams by being able to drive closer to one another than human-driven cars.

“Deaths from traffic accidents—over 1.2 million worldwide every year—could be reduced dramatically, especially since 94 percent of accidents in the U.S. involve human error,” says Google.

(Photo: Google)

So, Why Should You Care? Transportation accounted for 27 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 and nearly 40 percent of car-crazy California’s. Those emissions are not only accelerating climate change but emit pollutants that harm human health.

The Google prototypes deploy the same software, radar, sensors, and cameras used in the company’s self-driving Lexus SUVs, which have become a familiar sight on San Francisco Bay Area roads and have driven more than 1 million miles so far.

RELATED: Tesla Puts Electric Cars on Autopilot With Self-Parking Vehicles That Switch Lanes by Themselves

The pods cars appear to have evolved since Google first unveiled them. A bulky rooftop radar and apparatus has been downsized into a small blue dome.

Not that all the kinks have been worked out. Reuters reported on Thursday that one of those Lexuses cut off a self-driving Audi Q5 in Palo Alto, California, earlier this week.