Google’s Driverless Cars Are Cruising the Streets of California

By Carl Engelking | June 30, 2015 11:52 am
(Credit: Google Self-Driving Car Project)

(Credit: Google Self-Driving Car Project)

Some say they look like koalas. Others say they’re the smiling face of the future. And if you live in California, you’re already sharing the road with them.

Google had told the world that its line of itty-bitty self-driving vehicles was poised to hit the roads in summer. Well, they’re here. Last week, a few prototype vehicles started cruising around Mountain View, Calif., and the folks at Google are eager to see how the public receives them.

The Next Step

Although the self-driving cars are out of the garage and onto the roadways, the “training wheels” are still on. The vehicles are still equipped with a steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal, and a qualified driver will be there to take over if things go awry.

The cars drive conservatively. For instance, their speed is capped at 25 miles per hour. And they pause 1.5 seconds after a stoplight turns green “because many accidents happen during this time.”

Ultimately, Google’s self-driving car will someday roll off the assembly line sans steering wheel and pedals. Before that happens, Google will continue gathering data from their Mountain View prototypes to make the cars safer and more reliable. The Google car is equipped with the same software that’s loaded into Google’s self-driving Lexus SUVs, which is the same fleet that has logged over 1 million miles since the company’s self-driving vehicle project began.

Creating a Buzz

Google’s self-driving vehicles have already learned a few lessons about the streets of California — they’ve been involved in more than 10 accidents. However, none of the incidents could be blamed on a glitch in the self-driving software. In every incident, Google’s Lexus SUVs were either idle or moving at less than 5 miles per hour. In other words, human error was to blame — the very thing self-driving cars aim to cure.

And humans, being the wild cards we are, still represent a formidable obstacle for Google. Although self-driving algorithms can detect obstacles and stay between the lines, they don’t necessarily have a “human” driving style. Robots, for example, don’t give a “you go first” nod to another driver that reached a four-way stop at the same time.

“Self-driving cars may have a ‘better’ driving style but it may not be a human driving style,” Anuj Pradhan, a behavioral scientist at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told The Guardian Sunday. “And that could affect how we predict or react to them.”

To get at that information, Google is encouraging drivers who encounter a self-driving prototype on the roads to share their experiences. In the longer term, the company is looking at bringing their test vehicles to other cities, according to the project’s website: “In coming years, we’d like to explore other cities that can teach us about different types of challenging weather and terrain. We’d also like to run small pilot programs with our prototypes to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like these.”

How would you use a self-driving car? Weigh in in the comments below!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: transportation
  • robert heffernan

    self driving taxi… #guber I couldn’t help myself

  • My Music Radar!

    Oh boy this would help me a lot! I’m disabled and due to several medications can’t drive anymore. You have no idea how much it would mean to be able to run to the store without having to call my daughter.

    • anna.dahl2
    • tipoo2

      This is the kind of thing critics of autonomous cars aren’t thinking about.

  • H. Davis

    I knew LA drivers can be mindless, but now they have gone all the way to driverless!!!

  • O[b]ama

    The epicenter of America’s new self-driving-car infrastructure is New York City’s Ground Zero, the World Transportation Center (WTC).

  • Coppertop

    I love driving, it’s one of the things I find the biggest joy in. However, that’s not worth the price of the lives lost each year on roads around the world. And that’s just one, albeit the most important, benefit of self-driving cars. I can’t wait for this technology to become mainstream and I’m happy that I’ll have a chance to witness it during my lifetime.

  • Stephen Parrino

    You’ll never catch me in a car that a computer is 100% driving.

    • Overburdened_Planet

      Only under one, am I right? 😉

  • Jim Molina

    Its the future & it belongs in the streets of New York!
    A fleet of driverless cars that you can take on every corner & takes you to your destination then picks up another passenger! No more cars, Taxis or busses! every street a 2 way street so that these vehicles can take t best route based on real time traffic info! For the rich; Limo driverless, for the poor subsidized rides! It would solcve the congestion problem!

  • bigbad_42

    Reminds me of an old joke:

    Guy gets on an airliner which takes off and when it reaches cruising altitude, an announcement comes on.

    “Welcome aboard Trans America flight 645. Today you are making aviation history. This is the first totally automated aircraft to ever fly commercially. There is no flight crew on board, the plane is totally computer controlled. Please do not be concerned, the system has been extensively tested and nothing can go wrong…go wrong…go wrong…”

    In case you are too young to get the joke, disc records used to get damaged such that the needle would trace one loop around the record over and over.

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    GREAT! My own “Designated Driver” for when I go “Bar Hopping”!!! Love it!!!

  • Lee Riffee

    This technology would IMO have some uses in some situations, and I would not mind having such a thing be optional in future cars once perfected. Supposedly robots have always been designed to do work that people consider to be dirty, dull and/or dangerous, and at times driving can certainly be dull, especially when one is stuck in a traffic jam. I could see switching the system on when the driver has to go thru a very congested area, like the freeways around LA (or the DC Beltway here on the east coast), and then switching it off again once the traffic gets back up to speed. I have wished many times when I have been stuck in a traffic backup that I could put the car on autopilot and read a book or something until the traffic jam clears. That could also be useful on endless miles of nearly empty freeway if you are going on a long trip.
    But, for me to want to have anything like a self-driving car, it would need to function like cruise control – I could switch it off or on at will and chose to drive the car myself, otherwise, forget it!

  • Still Waters

    When cars first became common, one of the biggest problems people had was finding their way back home – the Horse knew the way! Seems to me like we are only taking one tiny step forward after loosing the path for a while. I’d totally jump right into one of these. Home, Bobtail!

  • Sam Bouchillon

    What a boom for the elderly that desire to retain their independence and dignity!

  • bwana

    Let’s give it a go in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in the winter time! Love to see how it negotiates icy roads and snow banks…

  • Lorie Franceschi

    before I would ride in a driverless car, I would want to see how it handles emergencies. Not everything goes according to plan. an animal can and do jump in front cars, trees fall over, people do bonehead things, and rocks fall on to roads. These are just a few of the things I would like to see how these cars handle before i sit in one and someone does not have control. Yes people do bonehead things while driving, but without someone controlling the car, for now, forget it. needs a lot more testing before I would feel safe in one.and not on public roads, that is what test tracks are for

  • Rochelle Strowder

    These vehicles could change many people’s live tremendously. For instance, people with amputations that affect there abilities to do everyday tasks such as drive, or one’s whom are on several medications and deemed unable to drive. This is a great invention, and I hope it continues in a positive way. Although the cars are not completely tweaked to the fullest they seem like they are pretty much ready to go by themselves. They stated more than 10 accidents occured, but fortuntely they were human error. The inventors of this self driving car are very intelligent, and they have a lot of work on their hands. Hopefully, one day these inventors will make an abundance of money for these cars. One thing that I do hope is that they will take into consideration disabled people whom need these cars for everyday tasks and not charge them a million of dollars.

  • Ajay Rekhan

    it will be encouraged by the lazy drivers, but we have to react based on its security measures.

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