Driverless car on Austin roads


by SHANNON MURRAY / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT McKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @ShannonM_KVUE

Posted on February 19, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 19 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Google's driver-less car rolled onto the streets of Austin Tuesday.

Tech fans and state leaders got to take a ride in the Google car with nobody manning the steering wheel. It might sound a little frightening at first, but transportation officials said it's technology that could make our roads a lot safer.

Google's self-driving car is a main attraction at this week's Texas Transportation Forum in downtown Austin. People from across the country stopped to take pictures or even take a ride themselves.

"You want me in the front or back?" asked one passenger.

A Google representative sat in the driver's seat, manually driving passengers to the highway. But once they hit I-35 the car took over from there.

"It really was smooth and quite effective, I was quite impressed," said former State Representative Pike Powers.

Google representatives say the car uses radar sensors and video cameras, mapping out each location ahead of time. They claim this souped-up Lexus follows basic traffic laws and detects pedestrians, but no one is actually driving the car.

The car may seem far fetched to some, but people at the transportation forum said in a few years there's a good chance you'll see more of these cars on Texas roads.

"It's a great ride," Powers said after his turn in the car.

People at the transportation forum refer to Powers as a pioneer in Texas' technology economy.

"They're using existing technology and packaging it in a way that becomes effective for modern day, 21st century usage and utilization," he said.

"Transportation is the lifeblood of our economy," said TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson.

Wilson said the car is completely focused on the road, unlike many drivers.

"You actually decrease the incident rate for accidents because people aren't involved," Wilson explained. "They're not distracted, they're not putting their make up on in the car, getting something to eat or drink, or looking down at the phone and texting."

"It's great to be in Austin, Texas with people like Google thinking big," Powers said.

Google says a capable driver needs to be sitting behind the wheel at all times just in case. And the car isn't meant to be someone's designated driver if they've had too much to drink.

The car can already be seen test driving on public roads in California and Nevada. Google representatives at the forum said it could be used for commercial use within the next five to 10 years.

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