Google brings self-driving cars to Austin
Technology powerhouse Google will begin to test its fully autonomous self-driving cars outside of its home base in Mountain View, Calif., for the first time with the addition of Austin, Texas, as a connected car testbed.
Google made the announcement over the weekend with a number of city officials including Austin Mayor Steve Adler on hand.
In July, Google brought several of its modified Lexus SUVs to Austin; those vehicles, while being piloted by computers, also have Google personnel in the vehicle as a redundancy. The new vehicles being tested were built from the ground up by Google.
The company already has a presence in Austin with its Google Fiber service being rolled out and brought live in the city.
“We’ve self-driven over 1 million miles and are currently out on the streets of Mountain View, Calif., and Austin, Texas,” Google noted on its website. “Our testing fleet includes both modified Lexus SUVs and new prototype vehicles that are designed from the ground up to be fully self-driving. There are safety drivers aboard all vehicles for now. We look forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with us, and uncovering situations that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle.”
Speaking of community interactions, Gizmodo recently reported on an interaction between a Google SUV and a biker in Austin that highlights the challenges to the machine-learning required by autonomous vehicles. In this case, a biker, positioned next to a Google vehicle at an intersection, used a move called a track stand in which the feet remain planted on the pedal while the rider moves the front wheel back and forth to stay upright.
From an account the rider shared with The Washington Post: “It apparently detected my presence … and stayed stationary for several seconds. It finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. The car immediately stopped. I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. Then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. It stopped abruptly. We repeated this little dance for two full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. The two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop.”
According to reports, Google plans to test the vehicles to the north and northeast of downtown Austin.