Google is ready to unleash its latest fully self-driving prototypes on the open road. The technology giant says a few of its new vehicles will leave the test track and hit the familiar roads of Mountain View, California this summer. They’ll have safety drivers on board. The announcement comes on the official Google blog.
The new prototypes use the same software that Google’s existing fleet of 20 plus self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs utilizes. Google says that fleet has logged 1.7 million miles, manually and autonomously combined, on the roads since starting the project. Recently, that’s included about 10,000 test miles a week.
According to Chris Urmson, Google’s Self-Driving Car Project Director, “each prototype’s speed is capped at a neighborhood-friendly 25mph, and during this next phase of our project we’ll have safety drivers aboard with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal that allow them to take over driving if needed. 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—e.g., 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 news comes only a short time after Google defended its autonomous vehicles following an Associated Press report about their involvement in 11 accidents over the past few years, most of them on city streets not highways. But Urmson says its self driving vehicles weren’t at fault in any of them. Google says at least seven incidents involved the cars being rear-ended, and at least one was the result of another vehicle running a red light.
“All the crazy experiences we’ve had on the road have been really valuable for our project. We have a detailed review process and try to learn something from each incident, even if it hasn’t been our fault,” Ursom writes. “Not only are we developing a good understanding of minor accident rates on suburban streets, we’ve also identified patterns of driver behavior (lane-drifting, red-light running) that are leading indicators of significant collisions. Those behaviors don’t ever show up in official statistics, but they create dangerous situations for everyone around them.”
To help cut back on accidents at intersections, Ursom says the cars are programmed to pause briefly after a light turns green before proceeding into the intersection.