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Google’s New Self-Driving Car Has No Steering Wheel, No Brakes, and a Face Designed to be “Friendly”

If the tiny car above looks like it’s happy to see you, that’s no accident.

It’s Google’s new house-made self-driving car, and its front-grill “face” was designed to look friendly — maybe because its insides could make riders feel ill at ease.

Unlike Google’s autonomous cars of the past — with a whirring device on top, but otherwise like any other car — its new prototype has no need for the trappings of a driverful past. Instead, it’s designed from the ground up as a car meant never to have a driver.

No brakes, no steering wheel, no gas pedal. Just two buttons for “go” and “start,” and a mobile app to summon the car.

The two-seater prototype looks more like a wheeled bubble than a traditional car. A human has always been present during during the 700,000-odd miles of testing in Google’s older self-driving cars, but the new version will soon be zipping around Mountain View without drivers (and, while driving to pick someone up, with no one in it at all).

Google announced the prototype Tuesday evening at the Code Conference hosted by Recode.

While some design choices help with functionality — the squat, round shape of the car gives the sensor at the top better visibility — others are specifically meant to help the car fit in when it clearly sticks out.

“We definitely would like the vehicle to appear friendly,” Chris Urmson, head of the self-driving car project, told Recode. “When you look at the front grill of any car, there’s a lot of thought put into that shape and what kind of emotion it shows. Many of them look like faces. In our case we wanted to find something that’s very Googley. It’s friendly, it’s kind of cute. We hope it fits into neighborhoods.”

The cars have two sets of steering and braking systems to cover for malfunction, and they will not go faster than 25 miles per hour.

Though Google hopes to get prototypes out on Mountain View streets as soon as this summer, the company does not plan to sell the cars itself.


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