2013 Lexus RX 450h road test, Catskill Mountains, NY, July 2012Enlarge Photo
After more than 300,000 miles of testing, Google’s automated self-driving Toyota Priuses have proven that self-driving cars have a future.
Now Google is adding another hybrid car to its self-driving fleet: the 2012 Lexus RX450h luxury crossover SUV.
“To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter,” Chris Urmson, Engineering Lead of the Self-driving program wrote on Google’s official blog.
The RX450h, with optional electric all-wheel drive, should help Google do just that.
Based on the same hybrid drivetrain found in Toyota’s Prius family of hybrid cars, Google’s engineering team should find that the luxury crossover SUV is relatively easy to retrofit with its self-driving technology.
Google's Self-Driving Lexus RX450hEnlarge Photo
Coinciding with its expanded self-driving car fleet, Google says that engineers on the self-driving car team will soon start using the cars solo for things like the daily work commute. Previously, there were always two employees in an automated car at any one time.
Although Google’s self-driving car fleet has driven more than 300,000 miles under computer control without an accident -- making them significantly safer than human-controlled cars -- Google says its engineers will remain in the drivers’ seat for now.
Google's autonomous carEnlarge Photo
There’s two reasons for this: first, a human behind the wheel provides a watchful pair of eyes in case anything does go wrong. Second, in order to drive in California, Google’s self-driving cars need a licensed driver behind the wheel.
We wish Google the very best of luck in the next stage of its automated car project, and have one small challenge:
Can the automated robotic control software achieve a better gas mileage out of the RX450h than we could, perhaps even beating the luxury crossover's official EPA rating?
Google, we wait your response with baited breath.