Lexus RX450h goes autonomous with Google

The autonomous car initiative is probably one of the more interesting projects Google is currently working on.

Personally, I can understand why Mountain View chose the Toyota Prius as a prototype for its program: Google wanted a green vehicle. Yet, the car enthusiast in me can’t help but think the Prius is is one of the least attractive green vehicles on the market.

Fortunately, Google is moving on up, as the company appears to have added a new Lexus luxury SUV to its autonomous fleet – the Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUV.

Yes, the luxury hybrid has been spotted wearing the familiar Google sensors on the roof while testing in Southern California. I’ll admit, the Lexus RX 450h isn’t a super looker in its own right, but it is far more attractive than the Prius. Of course, it’s nowhere near as cool as the autonomous Audi TT in the fleet.

Interestingly enough, Gizmodo is reporting that the sensors on top of the vehicle seem to have been altered or upgraded. However, from what I can tell, the sensors are pretty much the same that Google uses on the Prius. It is the sensor support structure which is different, and this is obviously to accomodate the larger SUV.

In any case, the first thing I wondered when I saw this photo was if the Lexus was driving itself. I would imagine there’s a human behind the wheel – even though the dark tinted windows prevent us from seeing who is driving. He or she could be piloting the car, or at the very least, standing by in case of trouble.

Remember, California hasn’t yet approved the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. However, California Senate Bill 1298 passed the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously and will direct the California Highway Patrol to set the safety standards and performance requirements for autonomous vehicle testing and operation. So yes, we will probably see this Lexus and the other Google autonomous fleet cruising the streets of California sometime in the near future.