Google has been working with driverless cars for a while now, starting with modified versions of models that already were on the market. These were joined by a cute new prototype designed by the company itself in 2014 with an interesting feature (or the lack of) – the absence of a steering wheel and pedals. These models took the streets of San Francisco starting this year and now they just landed in Austin, Texas, for their first deployment outside California. Google said in a G+ post that it put “a few” units in the Texan city but didn’t specify how many.
Despite that, Austin is not new for the driverless program from Google. Back in July, the company started running two units of the Lexus RX 450h SUV outfitted with a special set of sensors and software, having logged miles and miles of road without any accidents there. The koala-like cute cars will join the Lexus ones in the northern area of the city. The Texan capital offers some extra challenges for Google, including the fact that the city has a sizable local population of deers, which is good for the company as their software will be trained in more different scenarios.
Google driverless cars are some very interesting pieces of technology. They feature a powerful laser radar on the top that beams rays in 360 degrees, spinning at 10 times per second in order to create real-time maps of the area they are driving around – and it costs 70.000 USD, more than the cars themselves. This data is combined with highly accurate digital maps developed separately from Google Maps. Everything is processed and the car knows what to do in different situations of its driving life. In addition to the onboard systems, some of the data is processed in the cloud, as it would require an insane amount processing power to calculate everything.
The debate on how and when self-driving cars should be introduced in our daily lives is interesting. Google has a different view than automakers and the search giant believes that their autonomous vehicles will be available to the general public by 2020. So far they have been doing pretty well, having covered more than 1 million miles without a driver. With all this time and road, the driverless cars were involved in only 16 minor accidents, all of them due to human error in the other side.
Along with the new self-driving cars, the “Paint the Town” contest will also be coming to Austin. Until November 1st, residents will be able to submit their own art and the best 5 pieces will be printed in Google’s cars.