Stories have been creeping out in newspapers and on the internet for the better part of a year now, whispering about the progress being made in the development of self-driving vehicles. Many automotive manufacturers have been steadily working on adding some autonomous functionality to future releases, and transportation experts now predict that the majority of cars on the road will be self-driving in another thirty years or so.
While many different companies are making progress, one in particular has created a good deal of separation from the pack, thanks to an extensive partnership with an internet heavyweight. Several of Toyota’s Prius hybrids have been fitted with autonomous driving technology designed by Google, and based on their success self-driving cars have now been cleared for road tests in the state of California.
The new bill clearing autonomous vehicles for public road tests was signed by Governor Brown this past Tuesday. The signing occurred at Google’s California headquarters in Mountain View, and the Governor was joined by Senator Alex Padilla, one of the bill’s authors, and Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders. The bill, known as SB 1298, will lay out very specific requirements for driverless cars being cleared for road tests, and create the procedures for effective testing. Brin feels that with California’s support, true self-driving vehicles will be prevalent in five years at the most.
The autonomous cars are a true marvel of modern technology. They operate through a complex AI that steers the vehicle based off of information pulled from radar sensors and video cameras. Google’s autonomous Prius vehicles have already been road tested in Nevada, which passed their own law in 2011, and the autonomous fleet has racked up 300,000 miles of successful navigation. While California and Nevada still require these vehicles to have a driver at the wheel ready to take over if there is any problem, Google and Toyota claim 50,000 of their test miles were driven with zero input from the people in the vehicles. And while there has been one recorded accident during these tests, it occurred when a human was manning the controls, and it was just a small fender bender.
The bill’s signing was something of a well-attended media event, and Google certainly used it to their best advantage. Brin was wearing Google glasses, their yet to be released next generation technology, but made no mention of them at all. The communication that Google is leading the way in innovation of all sorts came through loud and clear. Brin also mentioned that the driverless cars take care of a number of problems, and aren’t just some sort of toy. According to their extrapolations, the autonomous vehicles will be much safer than those driven by people, while also helping those who cannot get around on their own, such as the elderly or disabled.
In addition, autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce traffic, increase fuel efficiency, and allow car commuters to be just as productive during their drives as people who commute with public transportation. The vehicles would be able to drop you off at work and continue on to pick someone else up, or even head back to your house, reducing the amount of parking lots required. They’ll also park more efficiently, to maximize the amount of vehicles that could fit on a street. While there are still many legal and technical issues to work out before everyone has their own autonomous car and can buy the super cheap vehicle insurance online that is sure to come along with it, the progress being made is a fantastic step towards a safer, sustainable future.