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Self-driving Google car hits the roads in summer

The latest version of Google’s self-driving car — a pod-like two-seater that needs no gas pedal or steering wheel — will make its debut on public roads this summer, a significant step in the technology giant’s mission to have driverless cars available to consumers in the next five years. But how long, do you think, before such sophistication can thrive on Nigerian roads?

This prototype is the first vehicle built from scratch for the purpose of self-driving, Google says. It looks like a Smart car with a shiny black bowler hat to hide its sensors, and it can drive, brake and recognize road hazards without human intervention. It has more capabilities than the prototype Google introduced last May, which was so rudimentary it had fake headlights.

The new pod isn’t designed for a long trip or a joyride. It lacks air bags and other federally required safety features, so it can’t go more than 25 miles per hour. It’s electric, and has to be recharged after 80 miles. And the pod can only drive in areas that have been thoroughly mapped by Google.

At first, it will likely even have a steering wheel and gas pedal because regulations also require a driver to be able to take back control of the car at any time. But Google is lobbying for more flexible regulations in America.

Google will initially build and test 25 pods, mostly in neighborhoods surrounding its Mountain View headquarters. It will eventually build between 50 and 100, and will broaden testing to sites that are hillier and rainier.

The ultimate goal, says Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is computer-controlled cars that can eliminate human error, which is a factor in an estimated 90 percent of the 1.2 million road deaths that occur worldwide each year. Self-driving cars could also improve traffic congestion and transport the elderly and disabled.

Google shocked the auto industry in 2010 with its announcement that it was working on a driverless car. Brin insists Google doesn’t aspire to be a car company, but wants its technology to be adopted by automakers.

“We want to partner to bring self-driving to all the vehicles in the world,” Brin told a group of journalists and community members who took rides in the prototype.

For now the traditional automakers are pursuing their own self-driving technology, but with less ambitious timeline of 10 to 15 years for a truly driverless car.

In Nigeria and the rest of Africa, perhaps we can look forward to years of no more swearing by frustrated drivers, no more crashes by sleeping or drunk drivers, new ‘driving skills and licences’ to man driverless cars, and above all stable and constant electricity to be able to power emission-less electric cars.

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