Google self-driving cars will begin tests on public roads in Kirkland, Washington later this month. Washington will become the third state where Google self-driving car tests are performed, joining Mountain View, Calif., home of Google headquarters, and Austin, Texas.
Google only plans to bring one self-driving car to Washington, a converted Lexus RX450h SUV. Google’s homemade self-driving cars being tested in California and Texas won’t be deployed in Washington for the time being.
Google actually began a few weeks ago driving around Kirkland to create a detailed map of the streets. Google says its self-driving software has already been tested in over 1.4 million miles of autonomous driving.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee praised the testing. “We’re looking forward to seeing the cars on the road and understanding more about how self-driving cars might someday improve safety and provide traffic relief.”
Surely there are many other suitors trying to attract Google’s self-driving cars. So here’s a look at three major reasons why Google’s self-driving car tests are expanding to Kirkland.
Wet, Hilly Driving Conditions
Google said it needs to gain more experience with “different driving environments, traffic patterns, and road conditions.” And Kirkland can do just that, allowing the autonomous vehicles to drive in rather wet conditions. The city is about 11 miles northeast of Seattle, which receives about 38.6 inches of precipitation each year. Mountain View, Calif., on the other hand, is much drier with about 14.7 inches of annual rainfall.
Kirkland also has a lot of hills, which will allow Google to test its sensors at different angles and elevations.
Kirkland and Google Have Worked Together for Years
Google and the city of Kirkland are very comfortable with one another as they’ve had a solid working relationship for some time. Google also opened a campus in Kirkland more than 10 years ago.
City manager Kurt Triplett told The Washington Post that he has “been pitching [Google] for four years to pilot the car here.”
Triplett said he meets with Google about every six months, making sure to always toss in a friendly reminder of the city’s interest in self-driving cars. He won’t have to do that anymore. Kirkland and Google have also co-developed parks and trails for residents.
Washington State is Pro-Self-Driving Car
Kirkland officials obviously really wanted Google’s self-driving cars. This was made possible in part due to how friendly Washington state’s laws are towards self-driving cars – neither Kirkland nor the state of Washington have any rules or requirements specifically written for autonomous vehicles, which means they’re not prohibited there.
Kirkland assured Google that nothing in the city code or state law would conflict with the autonomous vehicles driving on public roads. Some states, including California, Nevada, Michigan, and Virginia, have laws explicitly allowing autonomous cars to use public roads.