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Google Sets New Challenges for its Self-Driving Vehicles

Alphabet Inc. GOOGL continues putting its self-driving vehicles to new challenges, this time in rugged Phoenix, AZ.

The company announced on Thursday that it has started testing its Lexus RX450h SUVs in Phoenix. The self-driving SUVs will map streets, lane markers, curb heights and traffic signals and use this information to further improve their navigation efficiency in the area.

Head of business operations for Google’s Self-Driving Car program Jennifer Haroon stated, “The Phoenix area has distinct desert conditions, which will help us better understand how our sensors and cars handle extreme temperatures and dust in the air.” She further added, "Driving in new cities enables our engineers to further refine our software and adapt to these different environments."

Phoenix is the fourth urban area selected for the test run of Google’s car after Mountain View, CA; Austin, TX and Kirkland, WA. California and Texas were relatively easier territories. Kirkland, however, offered a wet weather.

So far Google’s 54 self-driving vehicles have driven 1.5 million miles in total.

According to Haroon, Google’s ultimate goal is to create fully autonomous vehicles that can simultaneously offer convenience and safety. The company is testing its self-driving vehicles in different challenging situations so as to ensure their safe operation.

It’s also possible that the company is shifting focus to new locales after road laws of California became restrictive requiring a licensed driver, steering wheel and brake pedals even in fully automated cars.

Google’s self-driving cars have met with accidents several times. On Feb 14, a Google self driving car struck a municipal bus while changing lanes in Mountain View. The company took partial responsibility of this accident and said that it had updated its software after the crash to avoid such accidents in the future.

On 16 other occasions, other cars hit the self-driving vehicles and on one occasion a self driving-vehicle caused an accident when being manually operated by a Google employee.

The company expects that the autonomous cars will get smarter from different testing environments, helping them to avoid accidents in the future.

At present, Google has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). Other stocks worth considering in the broader  technology space include Etsy, Inc. ETSY, Limelight Networks, Inc. LLNW and NetSol Technologies, Inc. NTWK, each carrying a Zacks  #1 (Strong Buy).

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