Google self-driving cars have arrived in Austin

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Google's self-driving Lexus SUVs are a familiar sight in Mountain View, California, near the company's headquarters, but now they're heading south.

In a post on Google+ early Tuesday, Google announced that Austin, Texas, is the latest location for testing its self-driving cars, with one of its Lexus RX450h SUVs already roaming around near the downtown area and another arriving later this week. That's right. Google is about to get weird.

Google has been testing the SUVs in Mountain View since 2012. This is the first time the company will be performing extensive testing outside California, aside from a few small demos in other cities.

The cars will have to be tested in a variety of different environments to further develop self-driving technology, and it makes sense that Google is setting its sights beyond the Bay Area.

A Google spokesperson tells Mashable that the company is "moving from the initial phase of our project (in which we were very heads-down and internally-focused on just making the technology work) to a new phase in which a major goal of our learning and testing is understanding what it really means to have self-driving vehicles in the world –- both how people in the community perceive and interact with them, and what the practical realities are for us in operating and maintaining them."

Austin is already an important city for Google; not only is it home to some Google offices, but it's also one of three cities where Google's Fiber high-speed Internet is up and running. The company says it expects Austin residents will provide "great" feedback on the self-driving cars.

However, Texas is not on the list of states that have legislation explicitly allowing the testing of self-driving cars Texas is not on the list of states that have legislation explicitly allowing the testing of self-driving cars. There's a bill pending in the Texas Senate that would encourage and regulate autonomous driving in the state, but Google and automakers have opposed it.

Since there is no specific legislation in place, Google says it didn't need to ask the city of Austin or the state of Texas for permission to test on public roads. The company had meetings with the governor's office, the Texas Department of Transportation and various other Texas officials before commencing testing.

Google recently published its second monthly self-driving car report, noting that two of its cars testing in Mountain View were rear-ended by other drivers. The "close call" between one of Google's cars and a fellow self-driving car tested by Delphi was not reported.

So Austin residents, don't be alarmed if you see one of Google's cars buzzing around. The Lexus vehicles will have operational pedals, a steering wheel and other equipment that can be manually controlled by humans, as well.

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