May 29--Google plans to make 100 prototypes of a two-seater driverless car and could tap Livonia-based Roush Industries to build them.
The prototypes will be small, with no steering wheel, gas or brake pedal because they are not needed. Push a button, set a destination and the cars will drive there -- with a top speed of 25 m.p.h. Cameras, sophisticated radar and sensors imbedded in the vehicles detect objects around them and do the accelerating, steering and braking. The test cars are electric with a range of 100 miles.
Google is betting that self-driving cars represent the future of driving, and automakers and their suppliers have been working on autonomous driving, too, with comparable technology and more manufacturing experience than Google.
Most industry leaders see a more immediate evolution toward semi-autonomous cars in which a human has to be behind the wheel and alert enough to take control if necessary. Fully autonomous cars are seen as at least a decade away, in part because some of the equipment Google uses on its cars now are prohibitively expensive.
Mark Reuss, global product chief at General Motors, called Google's new driverless car pretty cool, but said he thinks autonomous vehicles will arrive gradually.
"I don't think you're going to see an autonomous vehicle take over a city anytime soon," Reuss said, adding that Google can become a "very serious competitive threat" if it invested enough time and money.
Google ideally wants 100 test cars on the road in the next year after testing on closed courses. The search engine and advertising company said the cars would be built in metro Detroit by specialty automotive companies. News reports suggest Roush Industries will make them.
Roush spokeswoman Maureen Crowley said the engineering company specializes in prototype work and never comments on its clients. She said Roush has a number of facilities in metro Detroit, including Allen Park, Livonia and Auburn Hills. She questioned news media reports suggesting they would be built in Allen Park.
Google says the vehicles have been assembled in a facility in Michigan and the self-driving high-tech parts are being assembled in California. Google is working with unnamed automotive suppliers and technology companies.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is promoting semi-autonomous technology as a means to improve safety. Human error is the main cause of accidents.
A handful of states allow driverless cars on their roads if they meet strict criteria. Existing Google cars as well as a prototype from supplier Continental have special plates to drive in Nevada. California will allow driverless cars in mid-2015.
The first seven Google test cars on the road rely on a spinning $70,000 Lidar laser range finder that acts like a set of eyes to map the surroundings and compare the data against global positioning systems.
"As vehicles become more technology dependent, it makes sense that Google is interested," said Jared Rowe, president of Kelley Blue Book. "Google will have a lot to learn about automotive manufacturing if they do end up wanting to become a mainstream brand, however. Only time will tell, as we need to make sure that autonomous driving technology works and we can feel safe -- inside and outside of the vehicle."
Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle. Nathan Bomey contributed.
(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press
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Original headline: Google's prototype self-driving cars to be built in metro Detroit
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