- Google's self-driving car project is tackling city street driving, a major step toward making autonomous cars a reality for consumers.
- Google said its self-driving cars, which include the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX 450h, have now logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles.
- "We still have lots of problems to solve, but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously," wrote Chris Urmson, director of the Google self-driving car project, in a blog post.
MOUNTAIN View, California — Google's self-driving car project is tackling city street driving, a major step toward making autonomous cars a reality for consumers.
"We still have lots of problems to solve, but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously," wrote Chris Urmson, director of the Google self-driving car project, in a blog post.
He added: "As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer."
A YouTube video of the self-driving Lexus shows it navigating through a construction zone, across railroad tracks and monitoring bicyclists on the street.
"We've improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously — pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn," Urmson wrote.
Previously the focus of the Google project has been on highway driving.
Automakers are also tinkering with self-driving cars.
Last year, Nissan pledged it would have multiple self-driving vehicles ready for sale by 2020.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said last year that his electric-car company has had discussions with Google about autonomous driving technology, but tweeted last year that self-driving Tesla cars are "still a few years from production."
BMW and automotive supplier Continental are in the midst of an effort to develop self-driving cars, too. BMW said earlier that the main goal is to have highly automated driving functions ready for implementation by 2020. A joint project between the two is scheduled to run from now until the end of 2014 with an eye on launching prototypes "capable of highly automated operation on motorways."
Toyota's ambitious plans for self-driving cars include vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.
But federal safety regulators still have a lot of work to do before autonomous vehicles are commonplace on America's roads.
There are concerns about what happens in a driving emergency and whether an outsider could hack into an autonomous vehicle's computer system, potentially creating mayhem. Other questions arise over insurance policies and law enforcement.
Several states, including Nevada, California and Florida have enacted legislation that expressly permits operation of self-driving vehicles under certain conditions.
Edmunds says: Experimental vehicles like the ones from Google are at the highest end of a wide range of automation that starts with some safety features already found in vehicles, such as electronic stability control.