The Driving Range: Self-Driving Cars

Dani Ben-Ari

Those who grew up watching the TV show “Knight Rider” and dreamed about owning their own self-driving cars, may now find that those dreams can come true thanks to a new bill signed by California Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown that paves the way for driverless cars in his state.

According to an AP report, that bill will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways. Brown signed it at the headquarters of Google, Inc., which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for regulations. Self-driving cars are already cruising California and could be sold commercially within the next two years.  Who knows, you might even need a driver’s license at all by 2040, if the trend catches on.

In the meantime, Google’s fleet of 12 computer-controlled vehicles (mostly Toyota Priuses) equipped with self-driving technology has logged more than 300,000 without an accident while the computer controlled the cars. The only documented accident with one of the Google vehicles was a fender bender that took place while a human was in control.*

The cars use a combination of technologies, including radar sensors on the front, video cameras aimed at the surrounding area, various other sensors and artificial-intelligence software that helps steer. While Google is currently the most visible company working on these types of vehicles, similar projects are in development at other organizations, including Caltech.

According to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, “the cars could address a variety of current transportation issues. First and foremost, he said, “The self-driving cars would be safer than human-driven cars. They also could ferry around people who are usually unable to drive, such as blind people, as well as those with other disabilities, as well as people who are either too young or too old to drive, not to mention those who become too intoxicated.”

Brin also went on to describe how a car that drives itself can significantly reduce traffic by chaining together with other self-driving vehicles and using highways more efficiently. “Drivers wouldn’t be limited to listening to NPR and honking during their morning commute; instead they could use that time to be productive, like the millions of people who take public transit currently do. In addition, self-driving cars would be able to drop you off at work and then pick up another person instead of idling in a parking lot. If you did opt to own your own car, it could park itself in the most efficient way possible.”

Still, there are numerous legal and technical problems that would have to be resolved before the cars are commonplace. Asked who would get the ticket when a driverless car runs a red light, Brin replied, “Self-driving cars do not run red lights.”
*Both Nevada and California laws require the cars to have a human behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle at any time.




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