Google announced Tuesday on a Google+ post that its self-driving Lexus SUVs would be seen on the roads of Austin, Texas. Austin residents will soon notice the odd vehicles buzzing around near downtown, the company announced.
Google will tests two Lexus RX450hs that were retrofitted for its driverless project purposes. The tech giant has been testing the cars in Bay Area’s Mountain View, in California, for more than three years. So, this is the first time Google will test the cars so far off from the company’s headquarters, although it had previously displayed the cars in brief demos outside California.
The cars need to be tested in different conditions before they reach the nation’s showrooms, especially because there are many skeptics who had criticized driverless technology and fear that it may lead to more road crashes.
Google also said that expanding beyond Bay Area was a second phase of the driverless car project. So, now the company would be less focused on making the cars work (because they do work), but it would seek the public reaction to seeing the cars on public roads and response from communities.
Google also hopes that Austin is more prepared for driverless technology than other major cities. Austin and two other cities are the only locations where the company tested a high-speed internet. So, the city may be as responsive to driverless cars as they were with Google’s super-fast fiber internet.
Moreover, Texas does not explicitly ban self driving cars from public roads nor does it encourage them. There’s a bill related to driverless technology pending in the state’s Senate but the automotive industry and Google made extra pressures to stop it.
As a result, Google didn’t require permission to test the cars on Texas’ public roads, but it has been in talks with the Governor, the state’s Department of Transportation, and local authorities before making the announcement.
Yet, some people are concerned that the new cars may spell trouble. Google reported only two accidents involving driverless cars and human drivers, but the latter were to blame for both. On the other hand, the company didn’t report a “near miss” between one of its self-driving cars and another autonomous vehicle operated by rival company Delphi late last month.
But the cars that would hit Austin’s roads will still be equipped with a steering wheel and pedals so that a human operator can intervene at any moment in case of impending disaster, the company noted.