Google is to start building its own self-driving cars, rather than modifying vehicles built by other manufacturers.
The car will have a stop-go button but no controls, steering wheel or pedals.
Pictures of the Google vehicle show it looks like a city car with a “friendly” face, designed to make it seem non-threatening and help people accept self-driving technology.
Co-founder Sergey Brin revealed the plans at a conference in California.
“We’re really excited about this vehicle – it’s something that will allow us to really push the capabilities of self driving technology, and understand the limitations,” said Chris Urmson, director of the company’s self-driving project. He added that the cars had the ability to “improve people’s lives by transforming mobility”.
But some researchers working in this field are investigating potential downsides to driverless car technology. They believe they could make traffic and urban sprawl worse, as people accept longer commutes as they do not have to drive themselves.
This self driving cars had covered 700,000 miles of public roads in autonomous mode, and that they were now tackling the tricky problem of busy city streets.
The company plans to build a fleet of around 200 of the cars in Detroit, with the hope of using them as an autonomous technology test bed.
“We’ll see these vehicles on the road within the year,” says Mr Urmson.
Advocates claim that autonomous cars have the potential to revolutionise transport, by making roads safer, eliminating crashes, and decreasing congestion and pollution. In the first six months of 2013 more than 23,500 people were killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents in the UK, according to government figures.
Ron Medford, previously the deputy director of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and now the safety director for the self-driving car team at Google, believes that number could be drastically reduced by removing the chance of driver error.