"If all goes well, we'd like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years" using the vehicles in many different scenarios, wrote Urmson. "We're going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we'll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely."
Google has even created a new Google+ page where people can follow updates about the project and share their thoughts about self-driving vehicles.
Google declined an eWEEK request for additional comment on the new prototype self-driving vehicles.
More than 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents each year around the world (some 3,400 per day) and about 93 percent of those crashes are due to human error, according to Google. That's a key area where the idea of self-driving cars can eventually be beneficial, the company maintains.
In April 2014, Google announced that it had started a new effort to teach its self-driving vehicles how to master the challenges of city driving, such as heavy traffic, pedestrians and other urban hazards. The work is continuing to help teach the self-driving cars all the things they need to know as Google might expand its program in the future. The traffic scene in city driving is much different from the freeway driving that the self-driving cars have done so far.
Since Google's last update on its self-driving car program back in August of 2012, the company has logged thousands of miles on the streets of Mountain View, Calif., where Google is headquartered.
Before an automated car takes the road, Google sends out a driver to map the route and road conditions, logging lane markers and traffic signs to become familiar with terrain, according to an earlier eWEEK report. This road information is relayed to software in Google's data centers. Armed with this intelligence, the automated hybrid cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see" other traffic, along with detailed maps. The cars stop at stop signs and traffic lights completely on their own. A trained safety operator sits in the driver seat to take the wheel in case the software goes buggy while a Google software engineer rides in the passenger seat to monitor the car's software.