Google has started testing the latest prototypes of its self-driving cars on the roads of Mountain View, California, with safety drivers on board.
The company has been testing self-driving cars in Mountain View for a while and the prototypes will join Google’s Lexus cars, which use the same self-driving software, the company said in a blog post on Thursday.
Google’s self-driving Lexus RX450h sport utility vehicles have been in operation for several years.
During trials, speeds are capped at 25 mph. Though the prototypes are designed to work without a steering wheel or pedals, safety drivers will have a removable steering wheel and accelerator and brake pedals during the testing in case they need to take over.
The software that handles the navigation is the same tech that powered Google’s fleet of Lexus SUVs outfitted to drive themselves.
Earlier this month, Google launched a website specifically for the self-driving car. That came after increasing criticism by customers and consumer groups that the search giant was not providing enough information about the project.
Google has so far reported 12 accidents involving the prototypes. Injuries have been minor, the search giant said, and the accidents were mostly a result of human error by drivers of other cars involved.
The company is looking for local artists to submit work to be featured on the cars. This autumn, artists selected as part of the “Paint the Town” project will get their work displayed on the vehicles and have a chance to take a ride themselves.
Two self-driving prototype cars, one operated by Google and the other by Delphi Automotive, had a close call on a Silicon Valley street earlier this week, a Delphi executive told Reuters on Thursday.
It is believed to be the first such incident involving two vehicles specially equipped for automated driving.
The incident occurred Tuesday on San Antonio Road in Palo Alto, said John Absmeier, director of Delphi’s Silicon Valley lab and global business director for the company’s automated driving program, who was a passenger in one of the cars.
No collision took place. Google declined to comment.
Both companies have previously reported minor collisions of self-driving cars with vehicles driven by people. In most cases, the self-driving car was stopped, typically at an intersection, and was rear-ended by another vehicle.
In all cases, the self-driving prototype was not at fault, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the companies.