Google Prototype car in Austin, photo courtesy of Google.

Google Prototype car in Austin, photo courtesy of Google.

In 2003, the U.S. Defense Department launched the DARPA Grand Challenge to have a car drive 150 miles by itself across the Mojave desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

That’s when Google’s Chris Ursom, director of its self-driving car project, first got involved with autonomous cars. More than 100 teams registered the first year for the 2004 Challenge and none succeeded. In 2005, a team from Stanford University won the Grand Challenge. That car is now in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. That year, five teams had cars that completed the task.

Today, Google’s self driving cars are being tested in Mountain View, California, Kirkland, Washington and Austin. Google’s self driving cars have driven 1.4 million miles and have witnessed all kinds of horrendous traffic infractions. And Urmson said from what they’ve seen during these drives this technology cannot get out into the world fast enough. Google says the technology will save lives. It will also save people time and reduce traffic and time spent in gridlock. And in the 1.4 million miles the cars have driven, only one time did a car get into an accident that was its fault, Urmson said. The car accidentally side swiped a bus. No injuries were reported. The car sustained damage to its body and to one sensor.

In Austin, the driverless cars have encountered cars doing down the wrong side of the road. And a guy rolling over the hood of one of the cars. And a naked man running out of his house and running up to the car. Urmson said “Thank you Austin for keeping it weird.”

Urmson gave a similar talk last summer in Austin when Google launched its Google prototype cars in the local market.