Google Self-Driving Cars Face New Environmental Challenges In Austin, Texas

Google this week confirmed plans to take its autonomous car project into new territory to see how its self-driving cars handle and react to different challenges than the ones they've already been exposed to. The new location is Austin, Texas, an area that's been friendly to Google's projects, such as its fiber Internet and TV service.

Testing has already begun in Austin with a single white Lexus RX 450h SUV. Unlike California and other states that have laws on the books for self-driving vehicles, Austin and Texas as a whole have no such regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, meaning Google didn't have to get permission to begin tests. Even so, Google gave a heads up to Governor Greg Abbot, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, and the city of Austin.

Lexus RX450h

"As TxDOT focuses its efforts on the reduction of congestion and highway safety, we welcome and support Google's autonomous vehicle test within the state of Texas," Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Joe Weber said "The successful integration of driverless trucks and cars on to our current and future transportation network could be a key factor toward achieving safe and reliable transportation."

Google's self-driving cars have already logged over a million miles, though most of the testing up this point has been in and around the San Francisco area. By focusing on a few square miles north and northeast of downtown Austin, Google's self-driving cars will face a different set of traffic patterns and road conditions, such as pedicabs, pickup trucks, and whatever else Texas has to offer.

"We think there may be some geographic differences," said Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for Google's self-driving car project. "There could be some differences in driver/pedestrian/bicyclist behavior. We really won't know until we've started testing more."

Even though these are autonomous vehicles capable of going faster than the 25MPH imposed on Google's bubble vehicles, they won't be whizzing up and down the roads without a driver inside. In fact, each vehicle will have two safety drivers, both to see how the vehicle is behaving and provide feedback, and to take control of the vehicle when and if necessary.