As part of its self-driving car project, Google has announced plans to move prototype autonomous vehicles from its test center to city streets.
Revealed on Friday, the Mountain View, CA.-based firm said it is ready to take the next step in readying its autonomous cars for city driving. In summer, Google plans to send a few of their prototypes from test tracks to nearby road systems with safety drivers aboard.
Google's self-driving cars have been in development for several years. The new prototypes are based on Google's original fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs, which have logged nearly a million miles during testing and have recently begun driving themselves for roughly 10,000 miles each week.
According to Chris Urmson, the Director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, each prototype car is capped at a speed of 25mph. During the next stage of testing, each car will host a safety driver aboard with a "removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal that allow them to take over driving if needed." Urmson says:
"We're looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle [...] where it should stop if it can't stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion. In the coming years, we'd like to run small pilot programs with our prototypes to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like this."
The tech giant says the project's goal is to create a car which can "shoulder the entire burden of driving." If developed, a car which can take anyone from A to B with just a button could improve mobility for people -- especially those with disabilities -- but Google also says the safety aspect is a top priority.
According to recent research (.PDF) from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 94 percent of collisions and traffic accidents human error is at fault. The environment and vehicle failure were responsible for a marginal amount of accidents.
Google believes that autonomous vehicles could drastically reduce the rate of collisions as driving is taken out of human hands.
This week, Urmson admitted the firm's prototypes have been involved in collisions during testing. However, the Google executive was quick to point out the 11 road incidents were all "minor" and the fault of other drivers.
In related news, it has been reported that Tesla is evolving the traditional turn signal in order to solve the issue of self-driving cars and liability in the case of accidents. In the next major firmware update, Tesla's Model S sedan range will be able to pass cars and turn corners autonomously -- however, drivers will need to control the maneuver by manually pushing a button. This, in turn, signals intent and solves the liability problem -- which is likely to become a hot topic as our cars become smarter and regulators must keep up with new technology and systems controlling our cars.
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