AUSTIN (KXAN) — Steve Mahan is legally blind. Last year he rode in a car through the streets of Austin, by himself.
“Well I’ve never been in Austin, Texas. Now I’m driving in Austin, Texas,” Mahan said. It was a historic moment that passed quietly at the time.
Tuesday, Google’s self-driving car project released video of the ride through Austin’s Mueller neighborhood, the first time any car has completed a trip from start to finish on public roads without a test driver on board. It was also a milestone for Mahan, who hadn’t been alone in a car in 12 years.
Sensors and software in the car are designed to detect pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, road work and more from a distance of up to two football fields away in all directions. The sensors can, for example, observe a cyclist extending their left arm, detect the hand signal and respond to the cyclist moving into the left side of the lane.
Mayor Steve Adler hailed Austin as “the Kitty Hawk of driverless cars,” referencing the Wright Brothers first controlled airplane flight in 1903. The self-driving car carrying Mahan took him from a doctor’s office to the park and through Austin streets.
Google’s self-driving car project announced they are “spinning out” into an independent Alphabet company. The company, Waymo, aims to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around with self-driving technology.
The ride in Austin was the culmination of six years of development and testing, the company said, which included over a million miles of autonomous driving on public roads. Safety measures were put in place for the first ride. The car was programmed to slow down and come to a safe stop in case it came across a situation it didn’t recognize.
Waymo chose Austin for the first ride thanks to the community’s support of a driverless future. The company has been testing in the city since mid-2015 and continues to do so.
Gov. Abbott said he’s proud the company chose the Lone Star State for the historic moment, saying it’s evidence that Texas created a uniquely supportive environment for companies advancing breakthroughs in technology and infrastructure. “As governor I will ensure Texas continues to attract innovators like Waymo to find solutions to the challenges of the future,” he said.