But what sets these vehicles really apart is the lack of controls that have been part of every car produced since the dawn of the horseless carriage. Only a handful of the Google's prototypes will be equipped with steering wheel and pedals. After that, they will only feature an on/off button and controls allowing the riders to input a destination—by voice, of course. "Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can't keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving could become a thing of the past," explains Chris Urmson, the head of Google's autonomous vehicle programme.The move positions Google as one of the leaders in the field, but virtually every big car maker is now working on similar technology. Last year, for instance, Nissan announced it wants to put its first fully autonomous vehicle into production by 2020. Yet most of the incumbents take a more incremental approach than Google.
The technology giant is planning only to produce 100 autonomous prototypes, a quirky little electric vehicles with a range of 100 miles and a top speed of 25mph. From the outside, they look like a cross between a Volkswagen Beetle and a Smart Fortwo microcar. They will feature a soft nose and a flexible windscreen—just in case they hit a pedestrian.