Google started testing its self-driving cars near the company’s Mountain View campus in 2010. The project has since expanded to other areas including Austin, Texas. It is here that the driverless car project is taking its next big step by becoming truly driverless. Google has reportedly stopped having humans ride along with the cars — they’re fully autonomous now.
Even though Google’s self-driving cars have always been able to handle themselves, a human has been behind the wheel in case something went wrong. Google has repeatedly said that the human safety drivers almost never have to get involved and the cars are actually safer than a human driver. Now is the time toÂ prove that once and for all.
Google’s self-driving cars are mostly retrofitted Lexus RX450h SUVs. They’re easily recognizable not only because of the stickers proclaiming them to be self-driving, but also because of the giant sensor package on top of the roof. The car makes use of technologies like machine vision and laser range finders to map out its surroundings and stay on the road. Google has also shown off a prototype two-seat car with no steering wheel, but all the real world testing is being done in the Lexus and other modified vehicles.
Austin is an ideal place for Google to go out on a limb. It’s a tech-friendly city with well-maintained transportation infrastructure and good driving weather (self-driving cars still aren’t great in the rain). Google will be limiting the driverless cars to a mere 25 miles per hour, so any mishaps will be limited in scale.