A new fleet of Google's self-driving cars are about to hit the roads in Mountain View near the Googleplex, the company announced this morning.
These new vehicles are different than the fleet of self-driving Lexus vehicles that Google has been testing for years, although they use the same sensors and software. They don't have steering wheels, for one. For another, they're smaller than the old self-driving cars, with a distinctive pod-like shape.
So far, Google has built about 25 of these cute custom-made vehicles, which they will start testing a few at a time this summer.
Recently, Google's self-driving Lexus SUVs came under fire following a report by the Associated Press that they had been involved in several accidents. Google told Fusion that the company's autonomous vehicles hadn't been at fault in any of the minor collisions. Soon after the AP article was published, the tech blog Backchannel published a guest post by Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car program, that explained in more detail what had happened during these accidents:
Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident. Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America, and often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit; we’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway. We’ve also been side-swiped a couple of times and hit by a car rolling through a stop sign. And as you might expect, we see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit 8 times in many fewer miles of city driving. All the crazy experiences we’ve had on the road have been really valuable for our project. We have a detailed review process and try to learn something from each incident, even if it hasn’t been our fault.
Even though Google's cars may not have been at fault for these accidents, there are some public concerns about how safe these vehicles are. There are also concerns about who, exactly, will insure these vehicles. How these vehicles will be insured, and who will pay up in the case that they do cause an accident, will be another issue. To address questions like these, Google says that it will have a Google+ page where people can voice their concerns and follow the progress of the project.
"We’re proud of our driving record and development so far, and this new stage will help us understand what it really means to have self-driving vehicles in the world – both how people in the community perceive and interact with them, and what the practical realities are for us in operating and maintaining them," the company said in a statement.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.