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Google's new self-driving car puts cyclist safety first

A foam bumper and flexible windshield are Google's new prototype driverless car's flagship safety features ...

No steering wheel, no pedals and no driver. Google’s newly revealed, own-build, self-driving car prototype is looking to bring a new era of road safety to the world’s roads, but do automated cars have you worried?

Google say that your worries are unfounded. Despite doubt from some road users and researchers, Google have made it their mission to show a sceptical public that their automated automobiles are more proficient and safer than most human drivers.

The Californian company released the footage below, of their control-lite self-driving car prototype, at a conference in their home state on Tuesday.

The car has a footprint not dissimilar to a standard small city car and features a front end which not only gives the car an amicable face-like appearance, but also includes a number of safety features targeting vulnerable road users such as cyclists.

If the car’s friendly facade isn’t enough to put worried cyclists at ease, Google have also recently announcement that their current, adapted fleet of self driving cars have clocked 700,000 autonomous miles on public roads in America.

To further allay the fears of sceptics, Google released footage in April, which you can watch here, that showed how well their self-driving cars manage interactions with unusual road layouts as well as cyclists themselves.

On top of their evidence that cyclists may well be safer at the mercy of mindless robot cars than vehicles controlled by current road users, Google has taken a number of other measures in their new prototype to safeguard cyclists and other road users from their robotic vehicles.

Google's prototype vehicles will wear a foam bumper and flexible windshield that Google hope will reduce the impact that Google's vehicles will have on any unwitting pedestrians and cyclists that may come into contact with their vehicle's face-like front ends.

The speed of the prototype car will also be kept down for safety’s sake. Google told the BBC that the car, which will only seat two people and is propelled via the environmentally friendly wonders of electricity, will be limited to 25 mph.

The search giant also said that they will initially build 100 prototypes of their self-driving car, but plan to bring 200 of the cars to Detroit for extensive city-driving tests.

Google have reassured sceptics that early iterations of the vehicle will feature plug-in controls so the test driver can take control should something go wrong.

Director of the company’s self-driving project, Chris Urmson, highlighted in the official Google blog that safety was at the top of the company’s agenda.

He wrote: “We started with the most important thing: safety. [The cars] have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections.

“We’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but [there will be] space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route—and that’s about it.”

These prototype cars will use the same radar and laser technology to find their way around the world’s roads that Google’s current fleet of cars, which are responsible for the 700,000 automated miles, do.

Mr. Urmson also spoke to the BBC about his excitement for the vehicle, saying that these prototypes will really push the capabilities of self driving technology and allow researchers to understand its limitations.

He went on to say that the cars would “improve people’s lives by transforming mobility” and that he hoped to see these vehicles on the road within the year.

Another member of the self-driving car team at Google, Ron Medford, former deputy director of the US NAtional Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the BBC that he thinks self driving cars have “the potential to be the most important safety technology that the auto industry has ever seen.”

A public opinion survey in 2012, carried out by road safety charity IAM, found that two thirds of motorists were unsure about the merits of driverless vehicles.

Will Google’s extensive efforts to highlight the technology’s safety over the last two years begin to sway that opinion?

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