The Google car is here

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Is the Google car the harbinger of death for cars as we know them? Probably not. At least not yet.

To people like us, the Google car represents a terrifying future—a car with no pedals, no steering wheel, and an array of hardware and sensors that does all the driving for you. To add insult, this future comes with a face that looks not unlike like an adorable koala bear.

But maybe I’m overreacting.

Back in 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt proclaimed at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference that it was a bug that cars were invented before computers. “A car should drive itself,” said Schmidt. “It just makes sense.”

Now that vision is becoming a reality with the Google car, which is more transportation appliance than car. All superfluous controls have been removed—even the radio has been ditched. The only controls accessible to passengers are a screen displaying the route and stop and start buttons. That’s it. The electric drivetrain is being capped at 25 mph, so it’s safe to say the Google car will be sticking to surface streets.

For now, Google is planning an initial run of 100 vehicles for a pilot program over the next few years, so unless you live in Silicon Valley, you probably won’t need to worry about getting caught behind one in your morning commute.

Though it might be terrifying to those of us who still prefer a more analogue means of transporting ourselves, we probably don’t need to worry about the federal government prying our cars from our cold, dead hands just yet. Hopefully that day will never come, but Google does make some compelling arguments in favor of autonomous transportation.

Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.

But, it’s likely Google has interests in autonomous transportation that lie outside of getting your grandmother to the store safely. Last year the company led an investment venture that funneled $258 million into the hugely successful app-based luxury car pick-up service Uber. We’re thinking autonomous Uber rides aren’t far off.

Photo by Google