Our first glimpse of Google’s driverless cars came in 2012. Since then, Google has confined most of its test-drives of these vehicles to the roads outside its headquarters in Mountain View, California, and recently expanded tests to Austin, Texas (reports of other self-driving car tests by traditional automakers have surfaced in a few other spots around the globe).
Now the search company is bringing even more driverless options to the roads of Austin.
Google announced the arrival of their prototype autonomous vehicles at the Thinkery Museum in Austin. In addition to the Lexus RX450h that have been retrofitted with driverless tech, Google will bring over their pod-like prototype.
Google cites Austin as a test area on its self-driving car project website as well and says the test vehicles include “modified Lexus SUVs and new prototype vehicles”.
The Google car prototype previously only saw use at the company’s campus and throughout Mountain View. The self-driving car will come with a removable wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal in the event human drivers need take over.
It makes sense for Google to test self-driving cars in Austin for several reasons: not only is the city a vibrant tech and startup hub full of potential engineering talent, but Google is also installing its own experimental, gigabit Fiber internet service in the area.
The Google Self-Driving Car Project was originally announced in 2010. While some of the company’s cars are consumer vehicles retrofitted with Google’s technology, others are custom made. A small, two-seater prototype unveiled last year is is more like a “room on wheels” than any conventional car — it eschews the steering wheel entirely.
Altogether, Google’s reportedly completed more than 300,000 tests with no incidents of highway driving. The Lexus vehicles present in Austin however are limited to 25 mph, the Washington Post reports. The prototype pods could take the same precautions.
Google’s self-driving car project could be great for transportation and fuel efficiency, not to mention the added bonus of enabling people more time for relaxation or work while on the road. The implications are even more important for drivers who are seeing-impaired, physically impaired, or elderly. And with added pressure in the autonomous vehicle market coming from Tesla and potentially even Apple, competition could ensure driverless technology software won’t steer us wrong.
This post was updated shortly after publication to include new information obtained by The Wall Street Journal and Google