Google’s driverless cars are set to mingle with the public around the roads of Mountain View, California this summer.
Previously, the small vehicles have only driven on test tracks and have not mixed with regular traffic.
Google has tested autonomous vehicles on public roads but all of them have been heavily modified Lexus SUVs.
The robot cars will not be completely autonomous, but will have safety drivers on board who can take over if needed.
“Every moment has been building towards putting these cars on the roads where we can start learning even more from them,” said Jaime Waydo, systems engineer in the self-driving project, in a video released to accompany the announcement.
Mixing with real-life traffic will help Google engineers refine the on-board software to cope with many situations the cars have not encountered during testing, said project head Chris Urmson in a blog post.
“Getting these cars out in to the public and allowing people to react to them, allowing us to see them out there, that’s a huge deal and most importantly it’s the necessary step to getting them to drive themselves,” he said.
Ultimately, Google believes self-driving cars could “transform mobility for millions of people”, by reducing the number of accidents caused by human error and reclaiming the hours lost at the steering wheel.
But it will be going slow: the following pilot phase will take place over “the coming years”. So maybe don’t give up on Tesla just yet…
In the UK, the government has put cash behind four projects that will test robot cars on public roads in Greenwich, Coventry, Bristol and Milton Keynes.