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Google is now testing its self-driving vehicles on public roads

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Remember those adorable self-driving vehicles that Google showed off late last year? Well, the company has spent a few months testing them out in private, controlled environments and now feels confident that the technology is safe enough to begin conducting tests on public roads. Google announced as much last month in a blog post, saying that it would begin testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads in its hometown of Mountain View, California later this summer.

“We’ve been running the vehicles through rigorous testing at our test facilities, and ensuring our software and sensors work as they’re supposed to on this new vehicle,” said Google in the blog post. “The new prototypes will drive with the same software that our existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs uses. That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project, and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week.”

Apparently “this summer” means now, because according to a Google+ post on the Google Self-Driving Car Project page yesterday, the company has already put a few of the adorable little cars on the road. The company has explained that, while all of the vehicles are driving themselves around Mountain View at leisurely pace (25MPH), there’s still a human driver inside the vehicle at all times, and it’s equipped with the same accelerator pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel that regular cars have. This is so that the human driver can take control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency.

“These prototype vehicles are designed from the ground up to be fully self-driving,” said Google in the Google+ post. “They’re ultimately designed to work without a steering wheel or pedals, but during this 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. The prototypes’ speed is capped at a neighborhood-friendly 25mph, and they’ll drive using the same software that our existing Lexus vehicles use—the same fleet that has self-driven over 1 million miles since we started the project.”

On top of being adorable, some of the vehicles will be turned into mobile works of art. California-based artists have been invited to submit their own art to Google, with up to ten of these pieces of art expected to be selected by Google and featured on its self-driving vehicles. This added uniqueness and creativity adds even more incentive for Mountain View drivers to visit the new website that Google launched which encourages drivers who have seen one of its self-driving vehicles on the road to share their experiences and opinions.

It’s exciting to see Google moving forward with this project, but don’t expect Google-branded self-driving cars to be hitting dealerships anytime soon. There are still numerous regulatory and technological hurdles that the company needs to overcome, and considering how Google plans to run a bunch of pilot programs for its autonomous vehicles over the next several years,, its clear that this is just the first major step in a very long process. Google is far from the only company working on self-driving vehicles, however, so we may very well see a truly autonomous vehicle hit the market before Google’s project is even finished.

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