"Within 10 years, urban transport will be transformed, and the productivity of large cities will improve."
From the outside, the nameless, prototype autonomous car looks like a cross between a golf cart and a Smart Car -- with two doors, two seats. The detailing and placement of the headlights and grille make the front look like a face with big child-sized eyes and a slight smile.
The inside lacks a steering wheel and column, and doesn't have a brake pedal or an accelerator. Classified officially by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a Low-Speed Vehicle, a designation notable for its restricted top speed of 25 miles per hour, a regulation-approved glass windshield, the presence of side and rear-view mirrors, and a parking brake, the $150,000 electric Google robo-car can only go around 100 miles before needing a recharge. The autonomous self-driving technology uses pre-built maps overlaid by a real-time map built with a combination of cameras, sensors, and Lidar (a kind of laser "radar").
Bertaud predicts that the future of urban mobility will depend on autonomous vehicles that people use not only for the so-called "first-last mile," to connect people to public transportation systems when they live close to stops and stations, but not close enough, but also for when public transportation systems take too long to go relatively short distances.
The speed restriction falls into this classification of the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, a sub-classification of the Low-Speed Vehicle that operates in mixed-used environments. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, says, "These are cars that are uniquely different from a standard vehicle, and may be considered as an alternative to vehicle ownership."
In addition to the technological and socioeconomic hurdles the Google car tech faces, it must also win over regulators in each of the 50 states.
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