Between dealing with national regulators, perfecting the cars’ software and dealing with what may have been the self-driving cars’ first at-fault accident, Google has been somehow finding time to sign on new testing grounds for their robotic rovers. After being stung by lawmakers in their California home, they looked far and wide across the U.S. for new places to test their fleet, including Washington, Texas and even Canada. The newest testing ground for the embattled autos, it would seem, is Phoenix, Arizona. Known as a welcoming hotbed of innovation, Phoenix seems like the perfect place to test how self-driving cars will deal with things like heavy city traffic and desert environments. As of Wednesday, Google’s people are already on the ground in self-driving Lexus models like the one pictured above, outfitted with special equipment to help in mapping the place.
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Once they have a cohesive and comprehensive map of the entire area they plan to conduct tests, they can begin letting the fleet do what it does best. With over 1.5 million miles at this point in full auto mode, the fleet of self-driving cars has plenty of experience. Most of that experience, however, was from Mountain View, leaving the cars lacking experience in more diverse environments, such as the tropical reaches of south Florida, the mazelike mountains of Tennessee and the wide countryscapes of rural Illinois and Wisconsin. With testing going on in Phoenix, they’ll be able to see how the cars cope with elements like dry air, high temperatures and excessive sand or dust. The Phoenix area also happens to be home to a great mix of mazelike city streets, busy highways and more rural roads out of the city.
This comes in the midst of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation working together at figuring out some new rules of the road that would aid in the deployment of self-driving cars, with a deadline in June. For the time being, the autonomous automobiles are still finding a sparse crop of places to call home due to regulations being unclear on things like who would be considered the driver in an accident or just how autonomous a car is allowed to be.