Google tests self-driving cars on city streets

Posted at 04/29/14 9:37 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc said it has begun testing its self-driving cars on city streets, a crucial new phase in its quest to eventually make the technology a standard feature in automobiles.

After several years of testing self-driving cars on freeways, where driving conditions are more predictable, Google in the past year shifted its focus to city street driving, the company said in a post on its official blog on Monday.

Google said it has driven thousands of miles on the streets of Mountain View, California, a small suburban community where the company maintains its headquarters roughly 35 miles South of San Francisco. Google's driverless cars rely on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to help navigation, according to the company.

"A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area," wrote Chris Urmson, the director of Google's self-driving car project in the blog post on Monday.

"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 said.

Google is one of several companies, including automakers Nissan Motor Co, Volkswagen AG's Audi and Toyota Motor Corp, testing self-driving car technology. Both Nissan and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG say they plan to start selling self-driving cars by 2020.

It is unclear whether Google, the world's No.1 Internet search engine, intends to partner with other companies or develop its own self-driving vehicles.

The company posted a video that depicted how a self-driving car views the world as it navigates. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk3oc1Hr62g&feature=youtu.be

Google's test cars have logged more than 700,000 miles in self-driving mode since 2009. Google said its cars have not caused any accidents while operating in self-drive mode.

Google said it still has many "problems to solve," including teaching the car to drive more streets in Mountain View, before testing on the streets of another town