Google Is Testing Driverless Cars in Austin

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Google’s self-driving car has arrived in Austin. The Internet giant confirmed Monday that they had begun testing one of their autonomous vehicles, a white Lexus RX 450h SUV, in the Lone Star capital. Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for the Google self-driving car project, said they will begin testing another car this week. According to the Texas Tribune:

While California and other states have updated their laws to address self-driving vehicles, neither Texas nor Austin has followed suit, meaning Google did not need to get permission before initiating such testing in the city. Company officials briefed Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and the city of Austin about the testing in advance, Haroon said. No public funds are involved in the testing, and the company is not providing any funding to local or state entities related to the testing.

The cars have already logged over a million miles in previous testing, mostly around the San Francisco area. The Austin cars will have “safety drivers” in the vehicles when in self-driving mode in Austin. The test is somewhat fitting for Austin’s tech-savvy image, and the city is one of the few in the U.S. to have high-speed Google Fiber Internet service.

While the driverless technology is generally welcome, many officials think there should be some oversight. As the Tribune reports:

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers filed bills aimed at encouraging the use of the technology in Texas while allowing for some government oversight. None passed. A measure … would have created a pilot program to encourage testing of the technology in the state while also developing some minimum safety requirements for autonomous vehicles. Google opposed the bill but refused to provide a public explanation for its opposition. (An organization representing automobile manufacturers also opposed the bill, citing concerns that state-specific standards could slow down innovation.)

“We don’t think new laws are necessary at this stage and in fact that could be harmful to innovation,” Haroon said. “We’re still learning how the technology might be used.”

Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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