Driverless cars developed by US tech giant Google will be allowed to drive on public roads in California for the first time.
The prototype vehicles, with their trademark rounded design and cartoon-like look, will hit the roads of Mountain View, the place of Google’s headquarters. The vehicles will be allowed to drive at the maximum speed of 40 km/h and carry safety drivers aboard that would be able to intervene in case of unexpected situations using a removable steering wheel, brake and acceleration pedal.
The Google cars will be guided by the same software the tech giant tested with its fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs. The Lexuses, Google said, have logged nearly a million autonomous miles since the start of the project six years ago and have each an experience equivalent to 75 years of driving of a typical American adult.
However, Google admitted earlier this week that over the years, the cars have been involved in 11 minor traffic accidents.
The upcoming tests will allow Google to assess how the community perceives and interacts with the Google cars, and to uncover 'challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle.'
“We’ve been running the vehicles through rigorous testing at our test facilities, and ensuring our software and sensors work as they’re supposed to on this new vehicle,” Chris Urmson, Director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project said in a blogpost on the company’s website.
Urmson said Google would like to run small pilot programmes in the future focusing on what users would expect from such cars.
The Google cars are being developed with the goal to fully take over driving from human drivers, improving safety of road transportation, but also freeing people for other tasks.
As up to 94 per cent of traffic accidents are caused by human error, the effects of autonomous technology on road safety are likely to be substantial. Moreover, self-driving cars could provide the benefit of individual personal transportation to people who may be unable to drive for health and other reasons.