Notice anything new on the streets of Austin? Tech giant Google is rolling out its Self-Driving Car Project in the Capital City this week. Plans for a self-driving car have been in the works since 2009. In six years, Google has gone from the drawing board to driving around Mountain View, California in the revolutionary vehicle. Now it's time for new terrain.
Austin is a perfect playground for the project, thanks to local Google offices and the varied landscape. "From pedicabs to pickup trucks, Austin’s streets will give our self-driving car some new learning experiences so we can continue to refine our software and understand how different communities perceive it," said Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for the project, in a release.
Cruising around Austin is a Lexus RX450h, which has been outfitted with all the necessary sensors and software.
For a few weeks, Google safety drivers have been driving the car around a few square miles north and northeast of downtown. They've created a detailed map of the streets — including lane markers, traffic signals, curb heights and "keep clear" zones — to help the car understand its surroundings.
In the past few days, the software and sensors have started doing the driving. Don't worry: Two "safety drivers" are in the vehicle at all times. If the initial testing goes well, the team will take the self-driving car to more areas of town. There is currently one self-driving Lexus in Austin; another will arrive later this week.
Austin officials support Google's endeavor. "Keeping Austin's roads safe is one of our highest priorities, so we look forward to seeing how self-driving car technology might someday improve traffic safety," Police Chief Art Acevedo said in the release.
"Technology that never gets distracted or tired or irritable behind the wheel could make a real difference."