Last month Google quietly reconnoitered neighborhoods north and northeast of downtown Austin, Texas, and the first self-driving prototype began testing last week with another due this week.
This expansion in its research comes as it finds its way – or works its plan – in developing cars that navigate without the aid of a human driver – though two “safety drivers” will travel along, and Google has logged over one-million miles since 2009.
To date, Google has mainly focused most of its research closer to its home in California. The cars hitting the streets of Austin are based on Lexus-RX 450h hybrids, and on public roads in Mountain View, Calif., Google is also testing tiny electric cars of its own design.
Actually, Google did show Texans its driverless capabilities in 2013, according to the Texas Tribune, and now that it’s back, it has the approval of Texas authorities, not that it legally needs it.
In California and Nevada, Google has acquired drivers licenses for its cars, but in Texas it was not required, and Google just informed officials it was doing its thing – without public taxpayer assistance or support.
What Google’s end goal is has been the subject of conjecture. Its executives have said they are not inclined to go into the car business like some have speculated Apple may want to as well. Further, other carmakers are developing their own systems, so who would want to partner has not been announced.
Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for Google told the Texas Tribune only that Austin makes sense as it presents new challenges for the computer-driven vehicles to find their way through.
“We think there may be some geographic differences,” Haroon said. “There could be some differences in driver/pedestrian/bicyclist behavior. We really won’t know until we’ve started testing more.”
Adding to the possibility that Google does not have a specific plan for its ongoing research, Haroon responded to the prospect of Texas imposing restrictive legislation for public safety concerns saying Google is still discovering best applications for the technology.
“We don’t think new laws are necessary at this stage and in fact that could be harmful to innovation,” Haroon said. “We’re still learning how the technology might be used.”
But innovating it is, and Google is just one of many concerns developing this technology that has traditionalists writing op-eds predicting the end of driving freedoms, while from the other end of the spectrum supporters have said it can’t get here soon enough.