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Google takes next-gen autonomous cars to the streets

Google has begun testing its latest generation of self-driving cars on public streets around its Mountain View headquarters.

Google Self-driving car
Google posted an image of its self-driving car on a public road, with other traffic. Google

In a post today on its Google+ page, the Google Self-Driving Car Project announced that its latest cars were being tested on public roads starting today. The odd-shaped little cars are the third generation of self-driving car technology that Google has been testing since 2012.

Drivers around Mountain View might see the little cars rolling around suburban streets and the Google campus, joining the existing fleet of modified Lexus RX450h and Toyota Prius models. Each car will have a "safety driver," although Google's ultimate vision is to do away with standard controls such as the steering wheel and accelerator.

The cars are part of an ongoing project to develop self-driving cars that could potentially be safer than human drivers. Automotive equipment supplier Delphi Labs, also in Mountain View, has been testing its own self-driving car technology on public roads, making the area a hotbed for this type of technology. Automakers, such as Nissan and Ford, have predicted that autonomous cars will become available to the public by 2020.

Google notes that its new self-driving cars, which use electric propulsion, have a top speed of 25 mph. The Google+ post asks "to hear what our neighbors think," seeming to elicit comment from drivers who encounter the cars.

The cars use a suite of sensors and GPS, letting them figure out a route to a preprogrammed destination, then follow lanes and traffic guidance to arrive safely. An onboard computer must process the sensor information, allowing an algorithm to respond to other traffic and pedestrians.