Sunday, February 26, 2012

Google To Test Driverless Cars On Nevada Roadways

Google to Test Driverless Cars on Nevada Roadways

The roads in Nevada are ready for driverless robot cars. Earlier this month, Nevada's Legislative Commission approved testing of autonomous vehicles on the state's roadways. The cars will be identifiable by a red license plate.

In fact, any company can test its driverless system in Nevada; Google just happened to be the first to jump on the opportunity. Google's system can be installed on any make of vehicle. The company has been working on their driverless car system for a while and received a patent late last year.

"Self-driving cars have the potential to significantly increase driving safety," a Google spokesperson told Mashable. "We applaud Nevada for building a thoughtful framework to enable safe, ongoing testing of the technology and to anticipate the needs and best interests of Nevada citizens who may own vehicles with self-driving capabilities one day."

Even though the cars are driverless, they cannot be tested without two operators inside. Once the vehicles are shown to be safely operated with just one driver, the cars will receive green license plates.

Tom Jacobs, chief public information officer at the Nevada DMV, said this driverless system is "like cruise control on steroids." Jacobs said he did a radio interview recently in which he was asked if other drivers will ever feel the need to flip-off these cars. His response: no need.

"It had no bad habits," he said of the system.

Jacobs said he rode in one of the driverless cars. When the road is not mapped ahead, the car may give control to the driver after a female voice says, "please drive." If the driver does not take control, the car simply pulls over. There is also a display in front of the passenger seat that shows exactly what the car is seeing outside. This feature is for testing purposes only. Jacobs said the ride was so smooth, he couldn't tell when the driver or car was operating the vehicle besides hearing the automated female voice.

"There will never be any crashes," Jacobs said.

SEE ALSO: Tackling Self-Driving Cars' Biggest Questions [VIDEO]

In the future, it's possible automakers will offer this system already installed in vehicles. Drivers without the system built-in may be able to have their cars retrofitted. Jacobs envisioned a world where one day you can press a button on your cell phone, have a car pull up to your house, put your dog in it and send it to the veterinarian.

Jacobs said Google is also testing its driverless cars "quasi-legally" in California, since there is no written rule specifically allowing or forbidding driverless cars. However, Jacobs clearly has a stake in ensuring Nevada is a hub of testing this budding technology.

Regarding the California testing, Google says, "We have received several opinions from outside counsels who are experts in transportation law. All indicated that the testing in California is 100% legal as the safety driver is in control of the car at all times and is responsible for the operation of the vehicle. The testing involves having two people in the car at all times."

"Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles," Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow said in a statement posted on the state's DMV website on Feb. 15. "These regulations establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada's public roadways as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future."

There are several other states that have pending legislation that would allow driverless cars on public roadways.

Would a driverless car make your life easier? How much would you pay for one? Tell us in the comments.

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