Autonomous Car Update: Google Hits The Streets In CA, Nissan Offering Self-Driving Cars By 2020

May 18, 2015

For doubters, naysayers, and other haters of autonomous vehicles, the past few days have been depressing. Everyone knows that self-driving cars are coming, but these latest developments suggest that they may be running ahead of schedule.

GOOGLE

Last week, Google announced that its 23 self-driving cars have had just 11 accidents in nearly six years -- not a bad record for a group of vehicles that have traveled 1.7 million miles, most of which has been in self-driving mode.

Even more impressive, Google says that all 11 accidents were the fault of human drivers -- either the drivers of other vehicles, or Google's drivers who were in control of the company's cars at the time.

But all that took place in Toyota and Lexus vehicles that had been retrofitted with Google autonomous car technology. Now, Google says that its own car -- the all-electric one it introduced a year ago -- is about to hit the streets in California. 

That said, the pint-sized rides won't be hitting the highways just yet. In a blog post, Chris Urmson, Director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, says that the prototype vehicles will be limited to a "neighborhood-friendly" top speed of 25 mph.

Also, as California requested, the cars all have steering wheels, brakes, and acceleration pedals to allow the human occupant to take over if necessary. (Though Urmson also notes that the steering wheels are removable.)

For now, the fleet can only be found roaming over hill and dale near Google's Mountain View, California home, but expect their range to widen over time. In the meantime, you can catch a glimpse of Google's latest prototype in the video above.

NISSAN

Nearly two years ago, Nissan announced plans to begin selling autonomous vehicles by the year 2020. Today, Detroit News reports that CEO Carlos Ghosn has affirmed that the company is on track to meet that goal. 

That said, Ghosn did issue a few caveats. For starters, even though the company's autonomous cars will debut by 2020, they may not be widely available for purchase because regulators first have to set standards for self-driving technology. (And as we've seen elsewhere, state and federal agencies aren't so good at being proactive.) While consumers say that they want autonomous cars -- or at least autonomous features -- Nissan and other automakers aren't able to do much with their increasingly large store of self-driving tech until governments give them the green light.

Also, Ghosn noted that fully autonomous cars like the one that Google has been developing aren't Nissan's primary goal. They're almost certainly the end result of the company's work, but for now, Nissan sees autonomous features as enhancing rather than eliminating the driving experience.

And finally, as far as propulsion technologies are concerned, Ghosn said that Nissan is banking on battery electric vehicles. That's a little curious, given Nissan's commitment to developing a hydrogen fueling infrastructure in Japan.

Does all this news make you more excited about the arrival of autonomous cars? Less? Will they arrive too early, like former iterations of the electric car? Or will they be right on time? Sound off in the comments below.

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