Google testing self-driving Lexus on Austin streets

Flying cars are not quite here yet.  But we do have a Lexus that drives all by itself, thanks to Google.
"In every community, drivers, cyclists, they drive in different ways.  We want to learn from that.  We know that Austinites are going to give us our feedback," said Gerardo Interiano, Head of External Affairs for Google.

Google says Austin has been selected as its next location to test their self-driving car, a project that started in 2009.

The company is hoping it will save lives.

"Every year 33,000 die in the United States due to car accidents.  That's the equivalent of a 737 falling out of the sky 5 days a week," Interiano said.

Dr. Kara Kockelman is a professor of Transportation Engineering at UT.

She's been researching self-driving cars for years, looking at the benefits, costs and their effect on society.  She's actually been in the Google cars.

"They've got safety engineers on board who can immediately control, they usually have somebody in the driver's seat," Kockelman said.

Dr. Kockelman says Google's research in Austin will be very detail-oriented.

"They have great information on the roads but they've really got to get it down to the lane, they've got to get the curbs, they've got to get kind of the radius of the curbs.  None of that information is generally available so it takes a sort of 3-dimensional resolution of everything that's around them," Kockelman said.

So what does the future hold?  By 2030, Dr. Kockelman says cars may roll off of the assembly line with no steering wheels or pedals.

"I think a lot of cities and entire states will at some point outlaw manually-driven vehicles.  So it could be in a downtown first where they don't want to have anymore pedestrian collisions and they really feel that they can trust these vehicles far more," she said.

At Google's unveiling of the Austin Lexus on Tuesday, UT student Yannik Rohrer dropped by with his dog Mylo to check it out.  The technology fascinates him.

"When you take every single person that's driving a car 60 minutes a day and you convert them all to reading books, educating themselves instead of driving...and you're preventing those deaths!  Yeah that's going to change the world man," Rohrer said.

Mayor Steve Adler says "Austin is special in part because we welcome new technologies that could help improve our daily lives, and we can easily see the potential self-driving cars have to reduce accident rates and congestion, and to provide mobility for people who can't get around easily."

Police Chief Art Acevedo is on board too, saying "Keeping Austin's roads safe is one of our highest priorities, so we look forward to seeing how self-driving car technology might someday improve traffic safety."