Our first glimpse of Google's driverless cars came in 2012. Since then, Google has confined most of its test-drives of these vehicles to the roads outside its headquarters in Mountain View, California, and recently expanded tests to Austin, Texas (reports of other self-driving car tests by traditional automakers have surfaced in a few other spots around the globe).
With humans inside, the Google cars' safety drivers could take control if things went awry. Now the search company is reportedly removing human safety drivers from the equation altogether in Austin.
Google cites Austin as a test area on its self-driving car project website as well and says the test vehicles include "modified Lexus SUVs and new prototype vehicles" and but doesn't specify when completely human-free tests began. Popular Science has reached out to Google and we're awaiting a response.
It makes sense for Google to test self-driving cars in Austin for several reasons: not only is the city a vibrant tech and startup hub full of potential engineering talent, but Google is also installing its own experimental, gigabit Fiber internet service in the area.
The Google Self-Driving Car Project was originally announced in 2010. While some of the company's cars are consumer vehicles retrofitted with Google's technology, others are custom made. A small, two-seater prototype unveiled last year is is more like a "room on wheels" than any conventional car — it eschews the steering wheel entirely.
For now, however, Google seems to be restricting its tests in Austin to its fleet of retrofitted Lexus vehicles, and there's no word yet on if the company's other models of self-driving cars will appear, or when.
If it works according to plan. Google's self-driving car project could be great for transportation and fuel efficiency, not to mention the added bonus of enabling people more time for relaxation or work while on the road. The implications are even more important for drivers who are seeing-impaired, physically impaired, or elderly. And with added pressure in the autonomous vehicle market coming from Tesla and potentially even Apple, competition could ensure driverless technology software won't steer us wrong.