Google's self-driving pod cars now on California public roads

Google has dispatched its fleet of autonomous cars onto the public roads of California, though the pod-like prototypes won't be racing human drivers. While the longer-running fleet of converted Toyota and Lexus cars have been keeping up with traffic in the 1m+ miles of test driving they've done already, Google has opted to cap the top-speed of its more home-designed cars at just 25mph, which the search giant's Google X research division says is intended to be "neighborhood-friendly".

In the cabin, meanwhile, there'll be more controls than Google might have preferred to include. Although the ultimate goal is to have them "work without a steering wheel or pedals," Google says, right now they'll not only have a safety driver in the cabin, but a removable steering wheel, and pedals for accelerator and brake.

Back when Google first showed the bubble car design the controls effectively amounted to a touchscreen, a go button, and an emergency stop button. The company envisaged routes being set either remotely, via a phone, or when the passengers were sat inside by tapping the display.

That didn't go down so well with the DMV, however, which effectively told Google that if it wanted to go ahead with public trials the cars would need to have more traditional physical controls.

Google conceded, adding wheels and pedals, though maintaining that they were temporary and insisting that it was confident that the laws would eventually catch up with the technology.

That technology includes porting the software running safely on Google's Lexus fleet over to the new design.

"As we start to cruise around the neighborhood," Google's car team says, "we really want to hear what our neighbors think." While it seems unlikely that you'll be cut off by an autonomous vehicle, it's at least an opportunity to speak up if you got caught behind one driving under the speed limit, perhaps.

Exactly how you hitch a ride yourself is unclear, too, as Google isn't talking about opening the cars up to public test drives yet.

SOURCE Google [Thanks Paul!]