A year since unveiling its own self-driving car, Google has confirmed that the small, pod-like research vehicle is ready for testing on public roads.

Google has been testing a fleet of Toyota Prius and Lexus RX vehicles fitted with its autonomous car technology on public roads for some time now, which according to the company has so far caused zero accidents even after millions of miles of testing. Now, Google is ready to start hitting the road with its own car.

Google’s self-driving car is clearly still in the prototype stage. The company has been testing it over the past year on a private track and this summer it finally leaves the test track to hit some familiar roads near the tech giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

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Google has been running several of the prototypes through rigorous tests at its private track, and ensuring all the software and sensors work as they’re supposed to. The new prototypes will drive with the same software that Google’s existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX SUVs uses, so the vehicles already have a lot of experience to draw on.

In this early stage of development, the speed is capped at 25 mph and there’ll be a human onboard at all times to take over should something go wrong. Current autonomous car laws require self-driving vehicles to have a licensed driver onboard as well as a steering wheel and pedals so that he or she can take control in emergency situations.

Google’s goal, however, is to create a fully autonomous vehicle that someone simply hops in and keys in a destination. There wouldn’t be a steering wheel or pedals as Google wants anyone, even the seeing impaired, to be able to use the cars.

In this current stage of testing, some of the aspects Google wants to learn about is how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to identify challenges that are unique to self-driving cars, such as where a vehicle should stop if it can’t stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion. In the coming years, Google is aiming to run small public trials to learn what end users would like to do with vehicles like this.

Where it goes from there likely depends on the lessons learned, the legislative environment, and the ultimate question of whether there’s really a market for a car that drives you without your input on anything but the destination. While the benefits of the technology are obvious, with research showing that human error is the main cause of accidents there’s always the concern that driving on public roads may be outlawed someday.


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