Austin artists add ATX flair to Google’s local self-driving cars

Posted February 23rd, 2016

Some Central Texans have added a bit of color to those slick, self-driving cars that Google has been testing on Austin-area roads. 


The plain, white cars started making the rounds in the Mueller neighborhood and elsewhere around town last year – making Austin the only place outside of Google’s hometown, Mountain View, Calif., where they’ve been deployed so far. 


Google chose six Central Texas artists – Anna Vaught, Catherine Malloy, Annette Neu, Andy Nelson, Florence Swanson and Cathy Carr Haynes – for the new paint jobs, selecting them from a pool of hundreds who entered a competition. They come from a variety of backgrounds, from a recent University of Texas graduate to a 94-year-old resident of an area senior living center who hasn’t driven a car in about a decade. 


Their designs feature Austin-centric scenes such as bats taking their nightly flight from the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and, because Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, a man and his guitar. Of course. 


“The diversity of entries shows the passion Austinites have for art and the community,” said Jennifer Haroon, head of business for Google’s self-driving car project. “We saw a varied group of artists and even selected a mother and daughter by pure coincidence. We can’t wait to see these local designs on the cars around town.” 


The mother-daughter winners are Malloy and Vaught. Malloy said coming up with her design – the bat bridge – was “incredibly easy.” 


“It’s really nice that Google wanted to involve the community in something like this,” she said. “There are so many things that make Austin unique. Being creative, being visual, you’re always aware of these things.” 


Carr Haynes works with the Art from the Streets project, which targets the area’s homeless population. Self-driving cars are “the wave of the future,” she said, and that’s what drew her to the contest. 


A finger painter, her design features a larger-than-life sun shining bright over downtown Austin. 


“I’m not formally trained or anything, I’m just an art addict,” she said. “The project was so wonderful. I absolutely loved it. This is one small win for the finger painters of the world.” 


Each of the winning artists received a $500 gift card from Google, as well as an opportunity to ride in one of the self-driving cars. When Swanson, 94, got the news that her painting of a man with his guitar had been selected, she said she didn’t believe it initially. 


“I’ve won some nice awards but, still, I’m my own worst critic,” she said. “Seeing it out there on the road is going to be kind of cute.”