Google has shown off a new driverless vehicle prototype, a cute little thing with no wheel or other control mechanisms. Previously, the company had installed its software and hardware on stock Lexus SUVs and Toyota Priuses.
The new prototype is the embodiment of something that Google, its affiliates, and other self-driving car thinkers have been talking about for a while: if the driver doesn't need controls, the whole car can be redesigned.
"For over a century, the assumption in car design is that you will have a driver. The whole proportion of the vehicle, where we put powertrains, and where other things have been laid out rests on the assumption that you'll have a driver and the human factors associated with that," Larry Burns, former head of R&D at GM and a consultant to Google, told me at a Google event. "I think this is not evolutionary but a major shift in how we think about personal mobility."
Another Google consultant Brad Templeton has been talking up this kind of transformation for years, too. He's got an entire page dedicated to the design changes that can come from as Burns put it, "tak[ing] the driver out of the loop."
- Range is much less important
- Battery problems are considerably reduced
- Refueling is not usually done while humans travel
- Single passenger vehicles will be much more common
- Reverse and face to face seating
- The steering wheel vanishes
- Windshield requirements are different
- Cargo space is not necessary in all vehicles
- Acceleration is not a big requirement
- Cars may be much lighter
- Suspensions can be super-soft
If all these people—along with the host of other car manufacturers—are right about this stuff and driverless cars become ubiquitous, a friend of mine pointed out that a fascinating thing could happen.