One step closer to self-driving cars as Google takes testing to Austin

Google has announced that testing of its self-driving cars has commenced in Austin, Texas, taking along two of the latest Lexus RX450h SUV’s equipped with the technology.

The company is hoping to gain a better understanding of how the prototypes interact with varying traffic and road conditions, announcing the news in a press release last week.

The majority of testing since the futuristic program commenced in 2009 has been around the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“It’s now time for us to get experience in places with different driving environments, traffic patterns, and road conditions,” they said in last week’s announcement.

Austin will present the futuristic prototypes with some unique challenges, but Google has assured locals that two trained safety drivers will be in the car to take the wheel if needed.

Google is interested in both Austin’s road conditions and also social and community perception according to Google’s head of business operations for the self-driving car project Jennifer Haroon.

“From pedicabs to pickup trucks, Austin’s streets will give our self-driving car some new learning experiences so we can continue to refine our software and understand how different communities perceive it,” said Jennifer Haroon in Google’s press release.

Google gained the approval of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Chief of Police Art Acevedo and the Texas Department of Transportation, all of who spoke approvingly of the testing.

Going the distance with previous testing

We outlined last month that human error was responsible for half of Google self-driving car accidents. In Google’s Self-Driving Project Monthly Report for June we saw two more crashes, both of which were very minor and the fault of other drivers. That brings the number of crashes during the operation to 14, with Google stating that the self-driving cars were not the cause of the accidents.

Since the project started in 2009, Google’s self-driving cars have completed more than 1 million miles in autonomous mode and 800,000 miles in manual mode. The company reported that the cars average approximately 10,000 autonomous miles per week on public streets.

Despite the enormous distance covered each week, Google currently only has 23 Lexus RX450h SUV’s and 25 Google Autonomous Vehicle prototypes.

Previous testing around Mountain View, California has seen repetitive driving conditions, with the step to test in Austin displaying Google’s confidence in the technology.

Project Director of Google’s Self-Driving Project Chris Urmson delivered a Ted Conference speech explaining how the cars are able to operate without a driver behind the wheel – ‘How a driverless car sees the road’.