MOUNTAIN VIEW, California – Google offered some insights into how its self-driving cars deal with police and emergency vehicles after a highly publicized event last month in which a Google car was pulled over by cops in Mountain View, California for traveling 24 mph in a 35 mph zone.
In its November monthly report, Google said one of the key questions it received after the traffic stop is why it chose to build a slower “neighborhood electric vehicle” rather than a “full-speed automobile.”
“From the very beginning, we designed our prototypes for learning,” the report said. “We wanted to see what it would really take to design, build and operate a fully self-driving vehicle – something that had never existed in the world before.”
Google noted that slower speeds “were easier for our development process” and that “a simpler vehicle enabled us to focus on the things we really wanted to study, like the placement of our sensors and the performance of our self-driving software.”
The tech giant also said that slower speeds are “generally safer and help the vehicles feel at home on neighborhood streets.”
Google currently is testing 30 pod-style prototypes on public streets in Mountain View and Austin, Texas, along with 23 Lexus RX 450h SUVs. It said the Lexus SUVs are capable of traveling faster than the pod cars.
As part of its testing procedures, Google has built a “library of various sirens” for the software in the self-driving cars.
The self-driving cars drive more conservatively when they hear a siren.
“Even if sirens aren’t sounding, our cameras are on the lookout for emergency vehicles and are designed to detect flashing lights,” Google said.
A Google Lexus model in Mountain View was involved in a minor fender-bender on November 2 when it was rear-ended by another vehicle, Google reported.
There were no injuries by either party.
Google’s self-driving vehicles have logged 1.3 million miles in autonomous mode and are averaging 10,000-15,000 autonomous miles per week on public streets.
Edmunds says: Consumers get a little more insight into how Google’s self-driving cars are operating in the real world, including how they react when they see a flashing light in the rearview mirror.