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December 13, 2016

A record month in miles

  • technology

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August 2016

Real-world testing is critical to developing a truly self-driving car that can handle everyday driving without any human intervention. Just as humans can’t master driving by reading a handbook, a fully self-driving car can’t be built solely in a lab or on a test track.

The real world can pose a whole variety of unique driving challenges, many that might only come once in a lifetime. Rather than program our cars to handle a finite list of situations, we give our cars a core set of driving capabilities so they can safely navigate even the most unexpected scenarios. Through testing on public roads, our cars can hone these driving skills even further.

Lately our cars have been getting a lot more practice. In August alone, our fleet of 58 vehicles traveled a record monthly total of 170,000 miles; of those, 126,000 miles were driven autonomously (i.e. the car was fully in control).

Given that the average U.S. adult drives around 12,000 miles a year, our self-driving cars have navigated the equivalent of 10 years of human driving in just 31 days.

Over the last year, we’ve doubled the number of miles we drive, covering anywhere between 20,000 to 25,000 each week.

We began testing on highways seven years ago, but today most of our miles are on surface streets. While it may be easier to rack up many more miles on highways through driver assist features like cruise control, creating a truly autonomous car requires advanced driving skills in order to master the complexity of neighborhoods. (Highways, with traffic moving in the same direction along divided lanes, present a lower level of complexity when compared to the intersections, construction zones, traffic lights, pedestrians and cyclists found on surface streets.)

By expanding our testing program to four regions across the U.S., we’ve unlocked fresh opportunities to learn and practice driving in different environments. Whether we’re navigating rain in Kirkland, dust in Phoenix or deer in Austin, this real-world experience is getting us ready to introduce our fully self-driving cars to the public.