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City Slickers: Google's Self-Driving Cars Learn Metro Streets

Google's self-driving cars have made major progress in navigating complex city streets.
Google Self-Driving Car
Google’s Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23 in Washington, D.C. Google has logged over 300,000 miles testing its self driving cars around the country. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Forget about casual Sunday driving. Google's self-driving cars have made major progress in navigating complex city streets.

Google has spent the past year "teaching" its autonomous vehicles how to handle city situations -- as opposed to the relatively easier freeway driving, the company said in a blog post Monday.

It's a big step forward for Google's buzzy driverless car project, which the company announced in 2010. Google's last update on the venture came in August 2012.

Chris Urmson, the director of the self-driving car project, explained in the post: "A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area."

So Google worked on software updates that let the car register all sorts of objects at the same time: pedestrians, a signaling bicyclist or a crossing guard holding up a stop sign.

Google shared a video demonstrating the self-driving cars working out "common scenarios near the Googleplex" in Mountain View, California.

The company concluded that situations that may look "chaotic" to the human eye are in fact "fairly predictable to a computer," Urmson wrote.

Of course, Google's forward leap doesn't mean its driverless cars are ready for prime time. The company plans to test the cars on more streets in Mountain View before expanding to other towns.

"We still have lots of problems to solve ... but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously," Urmson wrote.

Overall, Google's autonomous cars have logged 700,000 miles on the road.