Thursday, October 11, 2012
Self-driving cars now legal in California
On Tuesday, California Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed a bill authorizing “self-driving cars” to be tested on public roads in California. Google co-founder Sergey Brin and state senator Alex Padilla were both present for the bill’s singing. The California bill, Senate Bill 1298, not only authorizes the cars to be tested on public streets but it also calls on the DMV to develop requirements and regulations to determine when the automated cars will be considered “road-ready”. Google is currently the primary developer of this technology, which they have already been testing in Nevada.
The Senate Bill lays out very specific guidelines for when and how the automated cars can be driven on the road. Currently, the bill only allows these cars to be driven on public roads “for testing purposes”. There is a section however that outlines the procedure for when these cars can eventually be used by the general public. Until that time, the cars can only be operated by company testers.
To be allowed on the road, the bill requires that a specially licensed operator is sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take over the controls at a moment’s notice. This is for safety purposes because the technology is still quite new. Although according to Sergey Brin, the automated cars have successfully logged about 300,000 miles without the drivers needing to intervene. Further, there has only been one reported accident and it was while the car was being driven by one of the test drivers. This technology has a promising future that could eventually change the way we as a population travel.
While Google is the primary developer of this technology they currently do not have an interest in producing cars themselves. Their primary goal is to continue to develop and fine tune this technology so that it can then be sold to manufacturing companies. The system combines different technology to allow the car to successfully operate without assistance. The technology includes cameras and radar senses located around the car. The car also includes an advanced computer system that analyzes all of the data at split second speeds. This allows the car to properly respond to any number of situations that might occur while on the road.
The possibilities of this technology are seemingly endless, but there are also potential issues that may occur. Brin imagines a future where eventually there will be more automated cars on the road than human operated ones. He predicts that this technology will be of great use to those who are unable to drive, such as the elderly, individuals with certain disabilities, and even those who are too intoxicated. There is also an idea that eventually your automated car could drive you to work, drop you off, and then drive home to park itself safely in your driveway. This would likely be further down the road, however it is clear that the possibilities are endless.
Even with all of the possibilities that this technology could bring, there could still be potential issues with its widespread use. One of the issues that Google is dealing with now is how best to react to unpredictable pedestrians. Also, while the technology makes the car drive very carefully, many drivers will likely be hesitant to give over the controls to a computer. Google recognizes that their will likely be hesitance at first, but Brin is confident that individuals will “get over” this feeling.
It is also interesting to examine potential legal issues that will certainly arise with automated cars. Such as, who would be responsible in the event of an accident? Would it be the owner of the car, even though they were not driving? Would it be Google, who developed the technology? Or will the manufacturer who produced the car be liable? The widespread use of these automated vehicles will no doubt raise interesting legal questions. However, until the time that this technology is available to the public, it is exciting to look at how this technology could potentially change the future of transportation as we know it.
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