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2015-01-15 10:35

AUTONOMOUS DRIVING ERA: A Google self-driving car on display at the Computer History Museum in California. Google expects them to be in common use on public roads within two to five years. Image: AP / Eric Risberg

DETROIT, Michigan — Google's head of self-driving cars, Chris Urmson, expects real people to be using them on public roads in two to five years.

Urmson says the cars would still be test vehicles and Google would collect data on how they interacted with other vehicles and pedestrians.

Google is working on sensors to detect road signs and other vehicles, and software that analyses all the data. The small, bulbous cars without steering wheels or pedals are being tested at a Google facility in California.

MORE TESTING NEEDED

Urmson wouldn't give a date for putting driverless cars on roads en masse, saying that the system has to be safe enough to work properly. He told reporters at an Automotive News world congress in Detroit - where the 2015 North American International Auto Show is running -  that Google did not yet know how it would make money on the cars.

Urmson wanted to reach the point where his test team no longer had to drive the cars. "What we really need is to get to the point where we're learning how people interact with it, how they are using it, and how can we best bring that to market as a product that people care for."

Google could face state regulatory hurdles, depending on where it chooses to test the cars in public. Under legislation that Google persuaded California lawmakers to pass in 2012, self-driving cars must have a steering wheel and control pedals.

Several other states have passed laws that permit "autonomous cars" on public roads without that restriction.

FIRST GOOGLE CAR

Google in announced in 2015 that it had a fully functioning prototype that has been driving on its test track. It hoped to see the cars on the road in northern California during 2015 but with drivers and auxiliary manual controls.

Google also confirmed that it has hired Roush Enterprises, a Detroit-area company that designs and builds prototypes for the auto industry, to build 150 prototype Google autonomous cars.

Urmson said Google was making laser and other sensors for the cars smaller and cheaper. He predicted that the cars would fail at some point on public roads but said Google's cars had been driven for more than 1.12-million kilometres on public roads without causing a crash.

Would you trust your and your family's lives to an "autonomous" car? Tell us your thoughts in the Readers' Comments section below or email them to usfor possible publication.

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