While the version of Google’s self-driving car seen in May wasn’t entirely just for show, it wasn’t a fully complete prototype either - after all, as the company points out, it didn’t even have headlights.
But now, Google has unwrapped what it calls “the best holiday gift we could have imagined,” finally showing off its first fully-functional version of the highly anticipated automated cruiser. And yes, if you haven’t seen the previous photo (included below) for some time, it might look completely identical.
However, a closer look shows significant refinement over the earlier mockup. There are headlights now, thankfully, and the camera sensor up top looks like a sleek button rather than a lantern sitting atop PVC pipes. You’ll note differences with the side mirrors and a much lighter and glossier paint job this time around. It’s also not as low to the ground on the front, which will come in handy when driving on awkward terrain or in inclement weather (hello, snow drifts).
According to a Google+ post on the matter, Google had previously made a series of “prototypes-of-prototypes” that focused on individual components of the overall experience. And as seen in the video below, people have already been driven around in versions of the vehicle.
But this is the first time that Google has put it all together into a single, cohesive prototype that’s ready to tear up some asphalt - at a very low capped speed, however (the earlier prototype maxed out at 40kmph), and still years away from any possible consumer model.
Internet-famous cartoonist The Oatmeal (a.k.a Matthew Inman) had a test ride in one of the earlier prototypes, but posted his amusing takes on the new design today. He calls the cars “timid” and says they’re “throttled to act like nervous student drivers” at present. However, while cautious about the current hurdles ahead, his impressions show strong optimism for their possibilities.