Google starts testing latest self-driving car prototypes with safety drivers aboard

Google Inc yesterday said it had started testing the latest prototypes of its self-driving cars on Mountain View, California roads, with safety drivers aboard.

The prototypes would join Google's Lexus cars , which used the same self-driving software, the company said in a blog post yesterday. Google's self-driving Lexus RX450h sports utility vehicles had been in operation for several years.

Although the prototypes were designed to work without a steering wheel or pedals, drivers would need a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal during the test phase in case they needed to take control.

Earlier this month, Google launched a website specifically for the self-driving car possibly in response to increasing criticism by customers and consumer groups that the search giant had not been providing enough information about the project.

The internet search giant had so far reported 12 accidents involving the prototypes.

According to Google, injuries had been minor, and accidents resulted mainly from human error of the drivers of the other cars involved.

Meanwhile, a Reuters reported on Tuesday, that one of Google's self-driving Lexus RX test vehicles cut off a car as it drove a public street in Mountain View, California.

Google's test car  cut off a self-driving test vehicle from Delphi, a Tier-1 automotive supplier developing its own technology not far from Google.

Reuters' reported John Absmeier, the director of Delphi Labs in Mountain View, was riding in his company's test car when the close encounter with the Google car took place. Reuters quoted Absmeier as saying the Delphi car "took appropriate action," and a collision was averted.

According to commentators why this mattered was Google's self-driving car project would go on, but with its dignity dented. The news comes only a day after Google proudly announced the debut of its latest self-driving car - the cute little bug-shaped car, not one of the retrofitted Lexus cars - on Mountain View streets.

Google's publicity photo for that car showed it being driven on what appeared to be the same street, San Antonio Road, where the Google-Delphi near-collision took place. In view of the averted collision, if nothing else, people should drive extra-carefully around there.