Google Self-Drive Car
Google says its autonomous self-drive cars can now handle thousands of situations they encounter on city streets. Google

Google has given its first update in 18 months on how its driverless car program is proceeding, with the search giant now claiming a mastery of city driving.

The copany revealed that for the last 12 months it has "shifted the focus of the Google self-driving car project onto mastering city street driving."

Since August 2012, when the last official update from the team behind the ambitious project was published, the driverless cars have racked up thousands of miles around the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

While initially focused on getting motorway driving right, Google has changed tack because "we all dream of a world in which city centres are freed of congestion from cars circling for parking and have fewer intersections made dangerous by distracted drivers."

Different situations

The problem with mastering city driving over motorway driving is that you typically encounter hundreds more objects moving according to different rule and "thousands of different situations."

To deal with these situations - such as jaywalking pedestrians, cars lurching out of hidden entrances or double-parked delivery trucks - Google's team built software models of what to expect, from the likely (a car stopping at a red light) to the unlikely (carrying on through the red light).

Chris Urmson, director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project said the fleet of vehicles the group used has now clocked over 700,000 autonomous miles.

Urmson didn't predict when we might see autonomous vehicles used in everyday life, but said "with every passing mile we're growing more optimistic that we're heading toward an achievable goal—a vehicle that operates fully without human intervention."