After many months of testing in their hometown of Mountain View, Google has taken the autonomous car act on the road and is now testing their self-driving car technology right here in Austin, Texas. “We’ve loved how much Austin embraces innovation,” a Google spokesperson told the Austin American-Statesman. If you recall, Austin was only the second location to receive the long-awaited Google Fiber last year, and Google now has several company offices in the city – making it an ideal locale for Google to test their software. While the announcement only made its way to the public this week, folks have been spotting Google’s distinctive self-driving Lexus SUVs around town for several weeks now.
“It’s summertime, so millions of Americans are packing up the car and hitting the road – and so are we.” This announcement came as a surprise to many locals, wondering how such an “experiment” of sorts could be legal to run on our roads. According to Google reps, they first sought the permission of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Department of Transportation and even local police and traffic authorities prior to commencing testing. “We’ve chosen Austin, Texas as a new testing location for our project, and one of our Lexus SUVs is there now, with safety drivers aboard, driving a few square miles north and northeast of downtown Austin,” reads the announcement on Google’s self-driving car page. For those of you unfamiliar with Google’s autonomous car tests, the company requires that two drivers be in the vehicle at all times while testing. More than simply a safety precaution, these drivers provide vital feedback to the engineers at Google about the car’s behavior, such as how it responds to traffic or how smoothly it takes corners. This data is crucial to the ever-developing world self-driving technology, which relies mainly on special sensors and software that is able to detect objects as far as two football fields away in any direction.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news, then you’ve probably come across at least one “Self-Driving Google Car Involved in Accident” headline. If you live in Austin and this has you up in arms over the possibility that robot cars are going to be out wreaking havoc on our people-driven vehicles (don’t laugh, this is a valid concern for some people…), here are some facts: Google’s fleet of more than 20 self-driving vehicles have driven a whopping 1.7 million miles and have been involved in a total of 11 minor accidents – none of which were found to be the fault of the driverless cars. Statistically speaking, that’s a pretty great record; far better than most humans I encounter on the roads. To those who still have concerns, or simply have a helpful tip to offer the folks at Google, they welcome your feedback: “It’s important for us to get experience testing our software in different driving environments, traffic patterns and road conditions – so we’re ready to take on Austin’s pedicabs, pickup trucks, and everything in between. Keep it weird for us, Austin, and visit our website to let us know how we’re driving.”
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