Google has been testing its second self-driving car prototype on enclosed roads for about a year now, which now seems to be ready to hit public roads and interact with other vehicles. The tech giant has announced that its fleet of autonomous electric cars will be deployed on public streets near the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, this summer, just as the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles is trying to finish writing the rules that driverless cars will have to abide by once they become commercially available.
“We’ve been running the vehicles through rigorous testing at our test facilities, and ensuring our software and sensors work as they’re supposed to on this new vehicle. The new prototypes will drive with the same software that our existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs uses,” said Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving project, in a blog post.
While undergoing testing on private roads, the two-seater pods were driving completely autonomously, without the help of a human driver. They didn’t have a steering wheel or gas or brake pedals, which would allow a driver to take over control, but for the tests on public roads, they will be equipped with these car controls, and a safety driver will be sitting behind the wheel at all times. Also, each pod’s top speed will be limited to 25 mph, so that they don’t pose a threat to public safety.
“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.” said Urmson.
During these tests, researchers will be able to see how the autonomous cars handle different and potentially dangerous traffic situations, including pedestrians suddenly running into their path, overtaking cyclists, or vehicles running a red light at an intersection. This will help them figure out what types of situations the pods are having difficulties dealing with, so that they can make the necessary adjustments to the autonomous driving system and make the cars safer.
The announcement that Google will start testing its autonomous pods comes a couple of days after admitting that several of its self-driving Lexus SUVs have been involved in a total of 11 collisions over the past 6 years. The Associated Press reported that Google has tried to conceal the fact that its driverless cars had collisions, which prompted the tech giant to release information about the collisions, stating that they have recorded 7 rear-end collisions, 2 side-swipes, 1 fender bender and 1 collision where a Google car was hit by a car that failed to stop at a stop sign.
The tech company quickly responded that all collisions were caused by drivers in other vehicles, and that most of them occurred while their vehicles were being controlled by safety drivers, but they still made a lot of people question the company’s self-driving car program. That’s why announcing that a new fleet of autonomous cars is set to be deployed on public roads could help Google divert media focus away from the fact that its self-driving car are not collision-free, after all, and offer the public a new and exciting project to focus on.