Google Inc. is ready to take the self-driving cars it designed onto public roads, another step in the company’s efforts to change the way people use vehicles.
The Internet-search giant plans to put a “few” of its small cars on roads in Mountain View, California, this summer, graduating from the test track, Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving project said Friday in a blog post. They will use safety drivers with the vehicles, which were first unveiled last year. Until now, Google has tested the technology on public streets using existing automobiles made by Toyota Motor Corp.
Google is stepping up investment in the project as it looks for new ways to spur the development of self-driving vehicles. The company, through its “X” research lab, has made 25 of the bubble-shaped vehicles, which look like something out of a futuristic cartoon, and will roll them out a few at a time, Google said in an e-mail.
“It’s an important step in that it is their own vehicle,” said Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley. “Google X works on innovation and disruption, and I think the automated vehicle has a lot of those features.”
The vehicles are capped at 25 miles per hour (40 kph), and during the next phase of testing the drivers will have access to a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal, which will let them take over if needed.
“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.
The company revealed earlier this week that the previous vehicles modified with the self-driving technology have been involved in 11 minor accidents in the six years they’ve been in testing — and that the cars were never to blame for the incidents. The majority of the collisions happened when the experimental autos were hit from behind, with some on the freeway and some at traffic lights.