Google looks for partners as it unveils autonomous car prototype

Google vehicle prototype
Credit: Google

Google says it doesn’t want to become a car manufacturer as self-driving prototypes hit the road.

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After more than two and a half years, Google is still looking for partners in the auto industry to help it build self-driving cars.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Computerworld today that company executives don't want Google, known for its search service, the Android platform and Maps, to get into the car-manufacturing business.

While it has been working on the software to run a self-driving car, Google is still seeking a partner to put that vision into cars that can be put on the market.

That news comes the same day that Google unveiled the first build of its self-driving vehicle prototype.

In a Google+ post, the company noted that it will be trying out the prototypes on a test track over the next few weeks. The goal is to have autonomous prototypes driving around northern California in 2015.

"We've been working on different prototypes-of-prototypes, each designed to test different systems of a self-driving car -- for example, the typical "car" parts like steering and braking, as well as the "self-driving" parts like the computer and sensors," Google explained in the post. "We've now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle -- our first complete prototype for fully autonomous driving."

The post added that Google's cars will have manual controls for drivers "for a while longer." The question of whether drivers will be able to override the vehicles' controls long-term remains open, however.

The spokeswoman would not say if Google is talking only with U.S. auto makers or if it is looking worldwide. She also would not say if the company is still negotiating with auto makers or if it has any signed deals in place.

"We don't particularly want to become a car maker," Chris Urmson, director of Google's autonomous car project, recently told The Wall Street Journal. "We are talking [with] and looking for partners."

This isn't the first time that Google has said it is looking for an automobile manufacturing partner.

In April 2012, Anthony Levandowski, who was then leading Google's autonomous car project, said he was looking for partners to work with his company to get autonomous cars on the road by 2022.

Levandowski made his remarks about looking for partners in Detroit, the center of the U.S. auto industry.

Google engineers are still working on the software for the self-driving cars and are testing their vehicles on thousands of miles of highways and city streets.

This past spring, Urmson went so far as to say that computers are better city drivers than humans.

"We've improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously -- pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn," he said in April. "A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can't -- and it never gets tired or distracted."

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