Google self-driving car starts testing on Kirkland roads

The white Lexus SUVs Google has been using to test fully-autonomous technology in California and Texas will be cruising around the streets of Kirkland starting today.

By DeAnna Isaacs

The Auto Reporter

The white Lexus SUVs Google has been using to test fully-autonomous technology in California and Texas will be cruising around the streets of Kirkland starting today. Kirkland is only the second city Google has chosen to test drive its autonomous vehicle technology outside Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

“Kirkland is a town that prides itself on being open to new technologies that could help improve our daily lives. We are excited about the potential self-driving cars have to reduce accident rates and to provide mobility for people who can’t get around easily,” said Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen. “We’re thrilled to have the cars here as they do more testing.  It’s a great fit.”

Currently, there are 22 Lexus RX450h SUV fitted with self-driving technology roaming around the streets of Mountain View (15 units) and Austin, Texas (seven units). These are the same kind of SUV you’ll be seeing driving around Kirkland, without a driver.

These vehicles are easily recognizable due to the plethora of gadgets on the body panels, including cameras and sensors, which allow the autonomous vehicles to see where they’re going. The sensors can detect pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and other objects to ensure the vehicle safely drives around them. The car’s computer uses exterior data and internal maps to navigate the world around it, using the sensors to predict the route and to react when something happens.

Google is also testing a completely new prototype Google Car, 26 units in Mountain view and 7 in Austin. Between the SUV test cars and the smaller prototypes, Google has covered 1,419,672 miles in autonomous mode driving with around 10,000 to 15,000 miles per week being driven autonomously on public streets.

Just like in Kirkland.

Kirkland self driving Lexus Press 1 SM “Kirkland is an ideal place to expand testing as it has a temperate climate, with seasonal rain for wet weather practice,” Google stated in a press release. “The hills of the city will allow us to test our sensors at different angles and elevations. Testing in new cities enables our engineers to further refine our software and adapt to these different environments.”

In order to make those improvements, Google relies on the sensors, video taken of the car, and public input. The public input can be a general comment or feedback on good or bad driving habits that Google’s car does on the road.

Now, if you’re worried that Google is heading into this blind (pun intended), rest assured they are not. Prior to using these cars autonomously in new locations, Google engineers drive the cars in manual mode. There are fewer miles driven in Google Self-Driving Cars in manual mode than in autonomous mode, as there should be, topping out at 988,925 miles manually driven.

“Over the last few weeks, our test drivers have been driving a single Lexus RX450h SUV around a few square miles in North Kirkland and created a detailed map of the streets,” Google stated in a press release. “Things like lane markers, traffic signals, curb heights, “keep clear” zones and other information that helps our car understand exactly where it is in the world. Now, our car is ready to take over the driving.”

Google’s cars will also not be alone. A test driver will be in the vehicles during any test drive in autonomous mode, ready to take over if need be.

“We have strong roots in Kirkland having established an office here a decade ago,” said Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for the Google self-driving car project.  “Kirkland has always been welcoming to Google and expanding our testing program here will give our self-driving cars some new learning experiences and let us hear from different communities as we develop this technology.”

To learn more about Google’s Self Driving Car, please visit for information on how the car works and to give Google feedback on how the car is driving.

DeAnna Isaacs is a former reporter with the Reporter Newspapers group and writes for The Auto Reporter.