Roush tapped to build Google's autonomous prototypes, sources say

A rendering of Google's autonomous prototype.
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DETROIT -- Google Inc. will tap Roush Enterprises Inc. near Detroit to assemble the tech giant’s self-driving prototype vehicles and take advantage of southeast Michigan’s automotive supply and technology base, sources said.

Roush is expected to retrofit an unknown existing model at its Allen Park, Mich., prototyping facility near Detroit to help Google take another major step on the road to autonomous driving.

Roush and Google declined to comment.

While specific suppliers were not identified, the project is expected to include the “top players” in automotive safety and technology, a source told Crain’s Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.

Roush, formed more than 30 years ago to provide performance engineering services, today offers complete vehicle development, from design to engineering, prototyping, testing and validation.

The company has retooled the Ford F-150 to run on alternative fuels and modified high-performance Mustangs. It was also a subcontractor on the Ford GT supercar.

Google said late Tuesday that it plans to launch a fleet of 100 driverless vehicles, with no steering wheel, gas or brake pedals.

Automotive suppliers Continental Automotive Systems and Denso International America Corp., which are working on autonomous-vehicle technologies, declined to comment.

Google designed the car and it will be fully autonomous with extra safety features, company co-founder Sergey Brin said during a conference Tuesday hosted by technology blog Re/code in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Google has been testing self-driving vehicle technology since 2009 using a fleet of test vehicles equipped with sensors, lasers, radar and computers that process mapping and driving software.

The test fleet has racked up about 700,000 miles of autonomous driving to date, Google says.

The Google prototypes are pod-shaped cars about the size of a Smart ForTwo with two seats and two doors.

They are powered by an electric motor and have a top-speed of 25 mph.

The cars don’t have steering wheels, brake pedals or accelerator pedals “because they don’t need them. Our software and sensors do all the work,” according to a blog post on Google’s Web site.

The prototypes, which have safety features such as additional foam at the bumper and a plastic-like windshield to provide protection to pedestrians, are part of the company’s research laboratory called Google X, which is led by Brin.

“We took a look from the ground up as to what it would be like if we had self-driving cars in the world,” Brin said. “We’ve worked with partners in the Detroit area, Germany and California,” he said, without giving specifics.

The prototypes will let users ask for a destination address and then drive them to it, Brin said.

Automotive News Staff Reporter Gabe Nelson contributed to this story.

You can reach Dustin Walsh at dwalsh@crain.com.


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