Google bringing self-driving prototype car to public roads

Google’s self-driving car project is about to take a major step forward, with the company due to begin testing its prototype vehicles on public roads in coming months.

The tests will take place on the streets of Mountain View, California amidst real traffic and are an important step in getting the technology to a point where it can become a viable consumer product. They will provide valuable data on how the vehicles behave in real world conditions facing issues such as obstacles and congestion. To date, the Google's vehicles have only been tested under controlled conditions in the company’s test facilities.

The prototype vehicles use the same software as Google’s existing fleet of self-driving Lexus SUVs, which have been on the roads for several years now. The vehicles have driven over one and a half million miles autonomously so far and have recently been driving around 16,000km a week. While Google's prototype and self-driving Lexus share the technology, the company's new bubble-shaped car is a fully integrated solution designed internally.

During the testing each prototype's speed will be capped at 40 km/h and each vehicle will have a safety driver in the car ready to take control in case of emergency. While Google’s ultimate aim is for the vehicles to go to market without brake and accelerator pedals or a steering wheel, the prototypes will feature them due to Californian legal requirements.

"Our goal was a vehicle that could shoulder the entire burden of driving," wrote Chris Urmson, the project’s Director in a post on the company’s blog.

"Vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car."

Safety is one of Google's major concerns when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Last week the company revealed that its self-driving cars have been involved in 11 accidents over the six years since the program began, none of which were caused by its vehicles.

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