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Last updated at 13:39 BST, Friday, 30 May 2014

Hands-free on the road?

Summary

30 May 2014

It looks like the route to driverless cars is clear. Google is to start building its own self-driving cars, rather than modifying vehicles built by other manufacturers. It'll have a stop-go button but no controls.

Reporter:
Theo Leggett

Cars on the road

Can you picture yourself hands-free here?

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Report

Google's driverless car project was officially launched in 2010. Since then it says its test vehicles have completed more than a million kilometres on public roads. They've progressed from relatively simple driving on the Californian freeway to more complicated manoeuvring in urban areas.

So far, Google has used a fleet of ordinary cars, which have been converted to carry self-driving technology. But now it wants to take the process a stage further by producing a purpose-built machine. It’s planning to create a fleet of about a hundred fully autonomous electric vehicles capable of carrying two people at up to 40 km per hour without any input from a human driver.

The ultimate aim is to get rid of the controls altogether, although early versions will still need to have a steering wheel and pedals.

Google believes it will be able to launch a pilot scheme using the new cars within the next two years. But the internet giant is far from being the only company working on self-driving technology. A number of major manufacturers have their own test programmes, among them Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW.

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Vocabulary

manoeuvring

moving carefully and skillfully

purpose-built

designed and put together for a specific reason

input

involvement

ultimate aim

what you finally hope to achieve

steering wheel

part of the vehicle which drivers turn to change direction

pedals

parts of a vehicle which are operated with the driver's foot

pilot scheme

small-scale experiment designed to test a product before it is launched