Google’s next stop for self-driving cars is Austin

Google Inc. is now heading south for testing its self-driving prototypes on the roads of Austin, Texas. The step is an expanding effort by the company to gather information on how their self-driving vehicle prototypes interact with traffic, road conditions and people.

Some modified variants of Lexus RX450h SUV prototypes have already been spotted on Austin roads. These cars will be rolling in the north and northeast of downtown in Austin, while in self-driving mode, although the safety drivers will be present onboard.

The company’s hometown, Mountain View, California, is a usual place for testing self-driving vehicles, and they are a familiar sight for the locals, with about a dozen of prototypes being tested currently. The company was also reported testing their designs of tiny, bubble-shaped self-driving prototypes on the Mountain View roads last month.

Its the first time the company is performing such extensive testing of its vehicles outside California though they have shown demos in other cities as well. Google believes that Austin would provide them with useful feedback on autonomous cars, and already Austin is one of three cities running on Google’s Fiber high-speed Internet.

To encourage and regulate the driving of autonomous vehicles in the state, the Texas Senate already has a pending bill that is opposed by Google and other automakers. Since there is no law restricting the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads, Google didn’t need to ask or take any permissions for the same. Although the company had a few meetings with the Governor of Texas Department of Transportation, and various other Texas officials prior to commencing the testing.

“It’s important for us to get experience testing our software in different driving environments, traffic patterns, and road conditions — so we’re ready to take on Austin’s pedicabs, pickup trucks and everything in between,” a Google spokesperson said.

Recently, DMV released reports of a dozen of accidents by Google’s self-driving cars, which mostly included the modified Lexus SUVs. While most of them were due to human errors, but to minimize them, Google will have onboard safety drivers, who can take control of the car in case of an emergency.

Google’s efforts were appreciated by Austin’s Mayor, Steve Adler. “We can easily see the potential self-driving cars have to reduce accident rates and congestions and to provide mobility for people who can’t get around easily,” said Adler in a statement.