(Oct. 10) -- With little fanfare other than a post on Google's official blog, the search engine giant announced that it has been testing robotic cars on U.S. city streets, apparently without anybody noticing. Describing it as a "first in robotics research," Google says the self-driving cars -- modified Prius vehicles -- have already traveled more than 140,000 miles.
"Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard," the Saturday blog post reads. "They've driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe."
Google has been testing robotic cars on U.S. streets, the company said in a blog post on Saturday. Here, one of the unmanned vehicles in shown.
The cars operated autonomously as they navigated their way down roads and highways, but a driver able to take over control was in the vehicle at all times as a safety precaution. The vehicles were equipped with a complex array of sensors and cameras that allowed them to "see" and steer around obstacles, including other cars on the road.
As part of the project, Google apparently put together a dream team of robotics researchers drawing from participants in a Pentagon-sponsored robot road race conducted in 2007. That competition, part of a series of robot races called the Grand Challenge, was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and involved driving unmanned cars across an urban-style course in Victorville, Calif.
A Carnegie Mellon team won the 2007 competition using a Chevy Tahoe. Google says its drew on on several DARPA participants -- including a leader for the Carnegie Mellon team -- for its robotic car work. The motivation behind its driverless car experiment is to reduce the number of road accidents and increase energy efficiency, the company says.
Although Google says it coordinated its robotic cars with local police, no previous public mention has been made of the plan. Google, in the meantime is not revealing what it's next step will be for the robotic vehicles.