Just in time for the holidays Google makes a present to all of us by unveiling a complete, fully functional build of their self-driving car prototype. The first prototype presented in May this year was merely a design concept with very few working elements implemented. It had no steering wheel nor accelerator pedal, and not even functional headlights. In their Google+ post the project team further states that the prototype went through numerous iterations, at each stage partial prototypes were built to test various subsystems and functions which needed to be integrated.
At first glance this new prototype is indeed more refined, the first notable difference being the roof mounted LIDAR sensor which looks to be much better integrated. The prototype now has working headlights and turn signals, as well as larger rear-view mirror housings, maybe to better accommodate sensors or to make room for larger glass, a clear sign that this new prototype will be road-legal.
Google is serious about getting this car on the streets, in the little information revealed in the Google+ announcement, the team also says that they will start testing the vehicle on the track in the following period, and tests on public roads in California will start sometime next year. Google already received necessary public road testing permits earlier in September.