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Kitty Hawk, Cape Canaveral … Austin?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Age of the Robot Car is upon us. In fact, it actually began more than a year ago, and it started right here in Austin. That’s according to Waymo, the spinoff company formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project. The division of the entities was announced at a press conference on Tuesday. Waymo CEO John Krafcik revealed that the team provided its first driverless ride in northeast Austin back in October 2015. The pioneering passenger was Steve Mahan, the former head of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center who is himself legally blind. According to Krafcik, “On Steve’s ride, our car successfully navigated around everything from four-way stops, to a school bus, to a pedestrian with a stroller. We drove through all kinds of intersections, made unprotected left hand turns, and nudged over for vehicles on narrow streets.” Mayor Steve Adler hailed the technological achievement, declaring that it elevated Austin’s status to rarefied heights. “Austin is the Kitty Hawk of driverless cars,” Adler proclaimed in a statement. “We should all be proud that our creative and innovative city is where such a huge leap forward can take place.” Other cities are also on the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing, including Pittsburgh, where Uber has deployed a small fleet of self-driving vehicles. Unlike Mahan’s historic ride, though, those trips come equipped with a “safety driver” to ensure, among other things, the machines do not rise up against their masters (we presume).

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