In 1885, Karl Benz invented the automobile and later that year, in a test drive, he promptly crashed it into a wall, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, said in a TED Talk.
Driver errors create the majority of accidents on today’s road. Google’s solution is fully self driving cars.
And Tuesday, Google confirmed that it is testing one of its autonomous cars, a Lexus RX450h SUV, outside of Mountain View, California in Austin. And another car will arrive in Austin this week. It’s the first city of many Google has planned to rollout its self-driving cars. But it is the first test city outside of California. And the fact Google chose Austin speaks volumes about the city’s innovative culture and spirit.
“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,” Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for the Google self-driving car project, said in a news release. “Austin has always been extremely welcoming to Google and to innovation of all kinds, and we know we can count on Austinites for some great feedback.”
The big problem is 1.2 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year, according to Urmson. In the U.S., 33,000 people are killed each year, he said. And 94 percent of those accidents are linked to human error.
Google first launched its self-driving car program in 2009. Google wants “to learn how different communities perceive and interact with self-driving vehicles, and that can vary in different parts of the country,” according to a news release.
For the past few weeks, Google’s safety drivers have been driving the Lexus north and northeast of downtown Austin to created a detailed map of the streets for the car and to help it to understand lane markers, traffic signal, curb heights and other information. During the last few days, the car’s software and sensors have taken the controls, but two safety drivers still ride in the vehicle and can take over driving if needed, according to Google.
Eventually, Google hopes to drive the car in other parts of Austin.
“Austin is special in part because we welcome new technologies that could help improve our daily lives, and we can easily see the potential self-driving cars have to reduce accident rates and congestion, and to provide mobility for people who can’t get around easily,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler, said in a news release.
“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,” Art Acevedo, Austin’s Chief of Police, said in a statement. “Technology that never gets distracted or tired or irritable behind the wheel could make a real difference.”
Joe Weber, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, also issued a statement, welcoming and supporting “Google’s autonomous vehicle test within the state of Texas. The successful integration of driverless trucks and cars on to our current and future transportation network could be a key factor toward achieving safe and reliable transportation.”