Google’s self-driving car experiment has leapt beyond the safety net of Silicon Valley and is now plying the streets of Austin, Texas.
It’s the first time since Google launched the self-driving car project in 2009 that the company has conducted extended testing outside of California. Except for the occasional demo, the company has primarily tested its software in Mountain View, Calif. In Austin, Google is using one of its outfitted Lexus RX450h sport-utility vehicles—not the new self-driving car of its own design. Another one will arrive later this week.
Google, which to plans introduce self-driving cars to the public by 2020, says it expanded the testing program so it could experience a place with different driving environments, traffic patterns, and road conditions. The company also wants to see how different communities perceive and interact with self-driving vehicles.
So why Austin? At first glance, the city seems like an odd choice. However, there are a few aspects about Austin that make it a suitable testbed for Google—and even a future location for a fleet of shared autonomous vehicles.
First, there’s the obvious points. Google already has a presence in Austin; it has an office and it’s building Google Fiber there. “They’re a city that loves innovation, whether it’s in music or food or technology, and we know they’ll give us some great feedback on how we’re driving,” Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne told Fortune.
The city, it turns out, is also laid out in a way that could make it an ideal market for autonomous cars.
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SOURCE: Fortune, Kirsten Korosec