Google’s self-driving car has become the Prius heard ’round the world, and it continues to make headlines with its ever-escalating antics. Google, for its part, has got a lot of irons in the fire, including a mobile phone handset, a branded laptop, a cloud storage system, and even their own social networking hub (although Google+ is far from Facebook numbers at this point). In truth, they have been kind of hit or miss with their additions over the last few years, but they certainly keep trying. Along those lines, their expanding slate of goods and services also happens to include a fully automated vehicle that can take passengers from here to there without the need for a human driver. And apparently their brainchild is all grown up and ready to be official: the state of Nevada has seen fit to grant this car its very own driver’s license.
The car operates in a very sophisticated capacity, using a combination of radar and sensors to send pertinent information to a computer that virtually (well, actually) drives the vehicle. The software uses GPS navigation to plan routes and take passengers where they want to go with little other human assistance than inputting the destination. Google recently made headlines when they invited a blind man to hop inside the vehicle and tell it where he wanted to go. It ended up helping him to run errands by escorting him to pick up his dry cleaning, followed by a trip to the local Taco Bell.
But despite their stellar track record of testing the car (although it has been involved in a couple of accidents, the crashes were minor and attributed to human error in each case), some people may be curious about how a machine run by artificial intelligence became eligible to receive a driver’s license in the first place. It actually began in June of last year, when Nevada’s state legislature passed a law that would allow self-driving cars on the road (no doubt as a result of Google’s persistence in testing the car in real-world road conditions, which is to say traffic).
As of February, the DMV in Nevada completed a set of rules and restrictions specifically targeting autonomous vehicles, including stringent standards for testing and the addendum that even licensed self-driving cars must contain two passengers at all times. One person must be behind the wheel to take over in case of emergency (by simply touching the steering wheel or brake pedal) while the second passenger’s role is to monitor the navigation and watch for hazards along the route.
This car may not display the get-up-and-go of Ford or Chevy engines, and it might not handle as well as a Beamer or Mercedes, but it certainly has a lot to recommend it to drivers (especially those that would rather not drive). For commuters, Google’s creation could provide a major boon. Not only will the car itself save on fuel costs (and do less harm to the environment), but it can give drivers back those extra hours that they lose each day, allowing them telecommute during their commute, catch up on some much-needed sleep, or complete tasks that would otherwise be prohibited by the necessity of watching the road. And how about the benefit to the texting-while-driving crowd (teens, in particular)? While the vehicle won’t soon be available on showroom floors, the day is not far off when consumers will be able to hire their own mechanical chauffeurs, courtesy of Google. Nevada’s licensure program brings us one step closer to that anticipated day.