On Wednesday, Google announced they have elected to begin testing of their self-driving cars in Kirkland, Washington. The announcement also details that the plan is to have the cars on public roads by the end of this month. Or, rather, at least one Lexus RX 450h SUV, for now.
This would mark Kirkland, WA the second city Google has chosen for autonomous vehicle tests. Of course, the Mountain View, CA company began testing the cars in Austin, TX, last year. There are currently 15 of these cars driving around on public roads in Mountain View and 7 in Austin Texas.
Since the beginning of these tests, obviously, the tech giant has collected massive amounts of data on not only how the technology is doing, but also how well it adapts to various driving environments, traffic patterns, and road conditions. So far, the prototypes have logged more than 1.4 million miles.
Indeed, the rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest might make for an ideal test environment for these vehicles. Google also said, in a press release, “The hills of the city will allow us to test our sensors at different angles and elevations.” Accordingly, testing in different environments is crucial to ensuring the software is as refined as possible in order to perform optimally in all environments.
In response to the choice, Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen, comments, “Kirkland is a town that prides itself on being open to new technologies that could help improve our daily lives. We are excited about the potential self-driving cars have to reduce accident rates and to provide mobility for people who can’t get around easily.” She adds, “We’re thrilled to have the cars here as they do more testing; it’s a great fit.”
Statistics indicate that as much as 94 percent of road collisions in the United States are due to human error: distraction, miscalculation, aggression, etc. So while it might seem eerie—and perhaps even slightly terrifying—to hitch along with an autonomous vehicle, it still may be safer to let artificial intelligence do the navigating and not a human driver.
Of course, Google is not the only company to invest in autonomous vehicles, so while it is uncertain when the tech giant will expand the fleet in Kirkland, it might not be too long before Apple (and other competitors) also bring their cars to the challenging roads of Washington state.