Google has built its own version of a self-driving car, the company announced Tuesday, moving beyond its fleet of retrofitted Lexus and Honda vehicles by producing a rounded, almost cuddly-looking two-seater prototype that lacks a steering wheel and other controls.
"It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, 'What should be different about this kind of vehicle?' " the company said in a blog post Tuesday night.
The giant Internet company says it has no immediate plans to sell the cars, but decided to contract with an unnamed manufacturer to build up to 100 prototypes of its own design, as the next step after testing a series of stock Honda and Lexus vehicles on highways and city streets.
Google has been working for five years on the idea of a car that uses sophisticated software, lasers and other sensors to navigate and drive itself. Cofounder Sergey Brin and other executives say the idea could drastically improve auto safety and provide new mobility for seniors, the handicapped and others who currently cannot drive.
"These are just for learning," the company said of the prototypes. "They will help us refine our technology and learn how people might want to use them -- once you actually see a vehicle like this, you might start to think differently about how you'd want a vehicle in your life."
Google has previously said it has talked with major carmakers about its project but has never announced any formal partnerships. The company also has not ruled out the possibility of building and selling cars by itself.
The prototypes, which may start appearing on the streets of Mountain View in coming months, have no steering wheel, brakes or other controls. They have seats for two passengers, a button to start and stop the vehicle and software that will move the car to different destinations without human intervention. Google said the vehicles won't be able to travel more than 25 mph.
The battery-powered vehicles also have safety features that include a flexible windscreen and foamlike material covering the front.
"We took a look from the ground up of what a self-driving car would look like," Brin told an audience at the Code tech conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, where he announced the prototypes Tuesday night.
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