At first, that sounds perfectly natural…of course there are no steering wheels, they drive themselves! But the original idea was that drivers could eventually take back control of the vehicle and manually steer, such as in the case of emergencies or (though they won’t say this specifically) malfunctions.
The problem is that this is a totally new and innovative concept that will require some very difficult solutions. Ones that so far Google has not managed to come up with.
Because it will likely be one of the later developments to provide that feature, right now they have done the easiest thing. They have completely removed the steering wheel, and so made it impossible for the riders to be anything but passengers.
A video was released today through the blog that shows off the initial prototypes. I have a few personal observations:
1) These are the ugliest cars I have seen since the Gremlin. One of the women in the video exclaims how cute it is, which has to be attributed to its size and the fact that it looks like it is wearing a beanie copter.
2) It actually seems to drive really smoothly, and Google already appears to have gotten the concept of intuitive driving down with the first set of models.
3) These things are really cool, ugly or not.
Everyone in the video seems incredibly cheerful about the ride. You would think that at least one of them would appear a bit nervous; these are cars that are in total control of all movements.
On the other hand, theoretically self-driving cars are more safe than those we currently have. Purely because they are no longer slave to human error or emotional driving. They could potentially reduce the number of wrecks, and are electric so a potential solution to pollution and oil reliance.
The fact that a company as big as Google is successfully showing off products that could end that dependency is a pretty big thing. All of this is coming to light around the same time as the video exploring solar roads is circulating the web and building popularity. If you were to combine the two concepts, you would be looking at a complete change to transport infrastructure and industry.
One thing is for sure: Google may have created something amazing, but they still look silly.