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Google announces next generation of driverless vehicles

Google

Just press "go" to drive and the "stop" button to stop -- that's the idea behind Google's newest vision for the future of driverless cars.

At the Re/code Code Conference, Google announced that it was exploring what the future of fully self-driving automobiles would look like. It might seem crazy, but the model Google unveiled has none of the controls of standard cars -- the steering wheel, brakes and gas pedals have all been eliminated.

Google says it hopes that by this time next year, 100 prototypes will be on the roads. The car would be a two-seater with a top speed, for now, of just 25 mph. Test versions of the car will have a steering wheel and pedals, because they must under California regulations. Compact and bubble-shaped, the electric vehicle will not be sold to the public.

Riding in one "reminded me of catching a chairlift by yourself, a bit of solitude I found really enjoyable," Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, told participants at the Re/Code tech conference Tuesday evening, according to a transcript.

The prototype driverless vehicle is a natural next step for Google, which already has driven its first generation of self-driving cars more than 700,000 miles in California since 2007, according to CNET. Those cars -- commonly Lexus SUVs and Toyota Priuses -- have been outfitted with a combination of sensors and computers, but human "safety drivers" were always behind the wheel in case of emergencies. The newer cars would eliminate the role of the driver completely.

Google is unlikely to go deeply into auto manufacturing on its own. In unveiling the prototype, the company emphasized partnering with other firms.

The biggest obstacle could be the law. By the end of this year, California's Department of Motor Vehicles must write regulations for the "operational" use of self-driving cars. Rules for their testing on public roads were just approved last week.

The state may have thought that reality was several years away, so it would have time to perfect the rules. But that clock just sped up, said the head of the DMV's driverless car program, Bernard Soriano.

"Because of what is potentially out there soon, we need to make sure that the regulations are in place that would keep the public safe but would not impede progress," Soriano said.

While at the forefront of developing autonomous vehicles, Google is far from alone. Established automobile manufacturers, such as Nissan, GM, Ford and Toyota, are all competing to achieve self-driving capabilities. Tesla Motors hopes to have its system handle 90 percent of driving duties by 2016 -- a year earlier than Google's reported rollout, according to CNET.