While most of us will enjoy roasting chestnuts and eating smoked ham that comes with traditional Christmas feasts, some enterprising folks at Google will spend their holidays doing something far cooler than pigging out at the dinner table. They’re going to test out the first prototype of the company’s fully functional, self-driving car.

Temper your expectations a little bit here because it’s really not much of a prototype compared to what we’re accustomed to seeing when that word is thrown out in the auto industry.

If we’re being honest, Google’s prototype looks like a half-baked Volkswagen Beetle, or something that came straight out of a children’s animated series. The car’s interior isn’t exactly dripping with features either. It’s got two seats, two cup holders, and really not much else. It doesn’t have a steering wheel, gas pedal, a brake pedal, or anything that a human normally uses to drive a car, but Google’s prototype does have something no other production car has, or is capable of doing. It can drive by itself, thanks to nifty technology like laser-guided steering. Rest assured, this prototype is not the finished product, and that’s why Google’s spending the holidays taking this bad-boy out for more testing.

Hopefully, the project moves along far enough in the coming years that an automaker jumps on board to help Google out in the manufacturing of these models with the goal of commercializing self-driving technology in the next five years.

Click past the jump to read more on Google’s new Self-Driving Car Project.

Why it matters

Google Unveils Self-Driving Car Project Exterior
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A self-driving car is the closest to living the life of the Jetsons a lot of kids back in the 80s and 90s dreamed of living one day. As much as hybrid technology and whatever new frontiers the auto industry conquers these days, self-driving technology will probably go down as the biggest game-changer in the business since hybrids hit the market.

No longer will people have to worry about driving their own cars because the car itself will do it for them. Think about that for a second. You know how we’ve always wanted to live in a world where we just sit back, relax, and let computers do the work for you? It could really happen now if Google sees this project through.

Whether or not the application is practical at this point doesn’t matter because most of the technology is still in its development phase. But if Google and companies like Audi continue down the path toward autonomous driving, we may very well see self-driving cars out on the road in the near future.

Press Release

Today we’re unwrapping the best holiday gift we could’ve imagined: the first real build of our self-driving vehicle prototype.

The vehicle we unveiled in May (goo.gl/qDUtgq) was an early mockup—it didn’t even have real headlights! Since then, we’ve been working on different prototypes-of-prototypes, each designed to test different systems of a self-driving car—for example, the typical “car” parts like steering and braking, as well as the “self-driving” parts like the computer and sensors. We’ve now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle—our first complete prototype for fully autonomous driving.

We’re going to be spending the holidays zipping around our test track, and we hope to see you on the streets of Northern California in the new year. Our safety drivers will continue to oversee the vehicle for a while longer, using temporary manual controls as needed while we continue to test and learn. Happy holidays!

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