VIDEO: Google's Self-Driving Project Takes the Next Step

Google will begin testing a few of its self-driving car prototypes on public roads in Mountain View, Calif., this summer, the company announced.

The pod-like autonomous vehicles will all have drivers aboard, said Chris Urmson, director of the Google self-driving car project, on the company’s official blog. 

The prototypes will use the same software as Google’s self-driving Lexus RX450h fleet, which has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on roads since the project’s start. There have been a few minor crashes, but all have stemmed from human error – not shortcomings in the autonomous vehicle technology, according to Google.

Google has run the new prototypes through rigorous testing at the company’s facilities, Urmson said, to ensure “our software and sensors work as they’re supposed to on this new vehicle.”

Don’t expect to see the prototypes zipping down the freeway any time soon, however.

“Each prototype’s speed is capped at a neighborhood-friendly 25mph, and during this next phase of our project we’ll have safety drivers aboard with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal that allow them to take over driving if needed,” Urmson said. “We’re looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle – e.g., where it should stop if it can’t stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion.”

In the next few years, Google will run small pilot programs using the prototypes to continue advancing the technology and to learn what drivers want from autonomous vehicles.

To view a Google video about the self-driving car project, click on the photo or link below the headline.