Google has been operating a fleet of 24 Lexus RX450h crossovers equipped with autonomous driving features for the past few years in and around its Mountain View, California headquarters. Those cars have been logging about 10,000 miles a week, mostly on city streets, but Google says it will soon be sending them into other areas to test how well they handle bad weather, heavy traffic and varied terrain.
The Google autonomous car fleet is being expanded. 25 of the Roush built cars will be placed in service over the next few months. Those cars will be limited to speeds of 25 miles an hour and operated only on city streets near company headquarters. They are equipped with steering wheels, accelerators and brake pedals to comply with California law but those items are removable. The cars will add to Google’s research into how autonomous cars deal with traffic and pedestrians.
Google is interested in exploring how the cars behave in what it calls the 0.001% of situations that are outside of normal parameters. Those are events that most drivers encounter only once every 100,000 miles. Most of the testing of the new autonomous cars will probably take place at the nearby Ames Research Center, where the company will not need to have human drivers on board like it does when the cars are operated on public streets.
Google has been in the news lately because of reports its autonomous cars have been involved in 11 minor traffic accidents over the past 5 years. It says it will “begin posting regular updates on how things are going (e.g. interesting trends and incidents we’ve experienced).” It claims none of those 11 accidents were serious or was caused by of a malfunction on one of its cars. But the press and the legal eagles are circling, looking for any information that would make the basis of a good news story or lawsuit.