Google’s self-driving cars get the greenlight to hit the mean streets of Silicon Valley

15 May 2015

Google has revealed that its latest self-driving car prototypes have been given permission to leave the test track and drive freely around Mountain View in California.

The move comes just days after the internet giant’s director of the self-driving car programme, Chris Urmson, revealed that after driving 1.7m miles in six years Google’s self-driving car has been involved in only 11 minor accidents – none of which were Google’s fault

Google said that 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 94pc 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.

“Now we’re announcing the next step for our project: this summer, a few of the prototype vehicles we’ve created will leave the test track and hit the familiar roads of Mountain View, California, with our safety drivers aboard,” Urmson said.

Urmson said that rigorous testing of software and sensors has taken place and the cars are road-ready.

Accelerate into tomorrow

He said the new prototypes will drive with the same software that Google’s existing fleet of self-drivingLexus RX450h SUVs uses.

“That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project, and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week. 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.”

He said that each prototype’s speed is capped at 25mph and safety drivers will be aboard with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal so they can take over whenever necessary.

Google’s ultimate vision is vehicles that don’t require any controls except the ability to input destination.

“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,” Urmson said.

“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.”


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years