Newsfeeds have been abuzz lately with discussions about the safety of Google’s self-driving cars. On the heels of the news that none of the autonomous vehicles were at fault in the motor vehicle ‘incidents’ they’ve been involved in, Google’s Self-Driving Car Project plans to free the cars from the confines of their test track and let them loose this summer on the streets of Mountain View, California. Well, sort of.
In a blog post, Chris Urmson, director of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, explains that the cars will head out onto the open road with a safety driver on board. One of the biggest goals of the self-driving car movement is to free up drivers to do other tasks instead of, well, driving. Google’s autonomous car, like many other emerging prototypes, still has a steering wheel and brakes so a human driver can take over if necessary, but the car’s ability to drive itself is ever-improving. In a press conference, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the search engine giant’s self-driving vehicles are capable of recognizing police cars, joggers, hand signs from traffic cops, and the inevitable fact that “occasionally people make terrible decisions—turning right from the far left lane, for instance, or running a red light—and is on alert for them.”
By putting the autonomous cars on the road, Google’s engineering team aims to learn even more about how the vehicles operate and play with other traditionally operated cars (i.e. human-driven cars), as well as the host of variables that drivers encounter on a daily basis. The team is also really keen on getting people excited about the technology, by allowing them to see and interact with the cars.
From the announcement, it doesn’t appear that Google plans to roll out all 23 of the self-driving prototype cars—just “a few.” The models that will be tooling around Mountain View have “the same software that our existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs uses,” according to Urmson’s blog post. “That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project, and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week. So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on—in fact, it’s the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience.”
I guess that explains why they haven’t been to blame for any of the accidents.
Images via Google