The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has approved a license for Google’s self-driving car. The specially equipped Toyota Prius is armed with lasers, roof mounted video cameras and radar sensors to help it sense the environment. Also, of course, it uses Google software, mapping in particular, to get around. Officials from Nevada DMV have ridden as passengers in the cars “along freeways, state highways and neighbourhoods both in Carson City and the busy Las Vegas Strip” in order to assess the car’s ability to drive safely.
The new self-driving cars will be identified with a special red number plate bearing the infinity symbol, though there are plenty of other visual clues for the police or fellow motorists to indicate what kind of car it is (see picture).
The Google self driving car has already undergone extensive tests with a “trained driver” sitting in the driving position ready to take over, if at any time the car software/system failed. In this way the car has already clocked up 140,000 miles 'accident free'. Though someone did run into the back of the car on one occasion when it stopped at a red light. And also there are reports of a Google driverless car crashing when it was being driven by a human.
In recent years we have seen more and more driving automation; cruise control has been with us for many years (and is a standard feature on the Toyota Prius). We also have cars featuring automatic braking systems and self parking. But the driverless car is a large leap ahead of these driver assistance features.
The view from the Google autonomous car cruising down Las Vegas strip,
and an example of how the car 'sees' the road system.
In March we were treated to a video of a blind driver “driving” the Google car legally in his home state of California. California may be soon following Nevada’s lead to license the self driving car. California State Senator Alex Padilla offered his thoughts on the topic; “The vast majority of vehicle accidents are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle is capable of analysing the driving environment more quickly and operating the vehicle more safely.”
If the trials are successful with no major hiccups perhaps this will be the way we all get around in the future, as passengers who can do other more interesting things while our cars drive us to where we need to be.