Google’s new self-driving car is getting ready to hit the road—as early as this summer, in fact.
These pod-like vehicles—the designs for which were unveiled last May—are completely autonomous and the first to be totally developed by the Internet giant. (Its previous fleet of self-driving cars were converted Lexus SUVs; some of these have already been making regular trips on roadways.) This newer prototype will begin taking its own test drives around Mountain View, Calif., where Google’s headquarters are based, this summer.
“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,” Chris Umrson, director of the project, explains on Google’s official blog.
The new model uses the same software as the Lexus SUVs, which have “logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project,” Urmson says. “So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on—in fact, it’s the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience.” But just in case, so-called “safety drivers” will ride along for this stage of the project, and will be able take over driving—using the car's removable steering wheels and pedals—if needed.
The Los Angeles Times points out that four of the 48 self-driving cars that have been cruising around California’s roadways have been involved in accidents so far; according to a report, however, all were caused by human error.
Google plans to do more than just fine-tune its software during this phase of test-drives—it also hopes to gain a better understanding of how other drivers on the road will react to the vehicles. Says Urmson, “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.”