MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — The Google self-driving pod car will enter a critical new testing phase this summer as prototype vehicles roll out on public streets in Mountain View, California, Google said in a blog post on Friday.
"Each prototype's speed is capped at a neighborhood-friendly 25 mph and during this next 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," wrote Chris Urmson, director of the Google self-driving car project.
This new phase of the project will gauge how people react to the Google self-driving cars and the reality of operating and maintaining the cars in the real world.
Google said it has built 25 of the self-driving vehicles so far and up until now has limited them to runs on the test track. The cars will be rolled out on public streets "a few at a time."
"We're looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle," Urmson said.
The challenges may include such things as where the Google car should stop if it can't stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion.
Google said the pod prototypes will get the same software used by its existing fleet of about 20 self-driving Lexus RX 450h SUVs. Those vehicles have already been deployed on streets in Mountain View, the home of Google's headquarters.
That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week.
"So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on — in fact, it's the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience," Urmson noted.
He added that in the future, Google would like to run small pilot programs with the prototypes "to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like this."
Edmunds says: Self-driving cars edge closer to reality with this latest Google test. But we're still a long way from seeing them in showrooms and driveways at this point.