Self-driving cars will be on the roads by 2020

Google has confirmed its commitment to self-driving cars by saying they will be on the roads by 2020, if the department's director has any say in the matter.

Chris Urmson, director of the search engine's self-driving car division, explained that his son is due to take his driving test in four-and-a-half years and he is urging his team to ensure self-driving cars are mainstream by that time so he doesn't need to take his test.

Joking aside, he said one of the main reasons Google wants to develop self-driving cars is accident prevention and the number one way to do that is to remove the driver, which is the least reliable part of a car.

"Some 1.2 million people are killed on the roads around the world each year. That number is equivalent to a jet falling out of the sky every day," Urmson explained at the TED conference in Vancouver.

Additionally, he said driverless cars are more efficient than those with a human at the wheel. According to Google's research, six billion minutes a day are wasted sitting in traffic.

Google's self-driving cars were first released in 2009 and the prototypes - designed as pods - have racked up 700,000 miles on roads around Silicon Valley.

They are manufactured without a steering wheel or conventional controls, because Google believes they don't need human interaction to work. However, the prototype vehicles will have some controls, just in case those testing the cars run into any problems during the testing period.

Urmson continued: "That is not to say that driver-assistance cars won't be useful but if we are really going to make changes to our cities, get rid of parking lots, we need self-drive cars."

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.