Moving one step beyond the current stage of adapting existing production models to serve as development mules in its ongoing Self-Driving Car Project, Google has now created a dedicated "clean-sheet" vehicle capable of full autonomous operation. The prototype was unveiled near the firm's Silicon Valley headquarters in California.

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Google's diminutive 2-passenger city car is decidedly minimalist, with controls limited to a routing display screen and start/stop/pullover buttons. There's no steering wheel or pedals, however, it does feature all of Google's sophisticated mapping and navigation software along with radar/laser sensors and an array of cameras to safely travel from point to point with literally no human input. 

Google co-founder Sergey Brin says the company plans to build about 100 of these prototypes to determine their real-world viability as well as any potential limitations. While confident in its capabilities, the car's front fascia is backed with soft foam and the windshield is made from flexible plastic instead of glass to enhance pedestrian safety -- should a worst-case scenario ever occur.

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Initial vehicles in the Google fleet will be powered by an electric motor that drives the rear wheels and limits top speed to 40 mph. Each also will be fitted with a steering wheel and brake pedal to conform to current requirements for being operated on public roads. The testing will begin this summer on restricted venues in California. However Chris Urmson, Director of the Self-Driving Car Project, anticipates an expanded program on various city streets in the Golden State will start by December and continue over the next couple of years. 

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