Our roads could see cars that drive themselves in less than decade. That’s the verdict after the California state governor signed a safety and testing legislation for driverless vehicles.
Google has been testing the technology of self-driving cars for a few years now. A fleet of autonomous vehicles were roaming the streets of Nevada with close to 70 mph with no human involvement on busy public roads. Thanks to sensors that can track pedestrians and cyclists, understands traffic lights and can merge at highway speed, the fleet had no accidents on more than 300,000 miles of self-driving in the test phase.
Now the California governor Jerry Brown has signed state legislation that will pave the way for driverless cars. Brown signed the bill after he travelled to the Google headquarters in a self-driving Toyota Prius to show his full support for the new technology.
The legislation will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate driverless vehicles on the California’s roads and highways.
“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality – the self-driving car,” Mr Brown told journalists who gathered to witness the historic moment for smart cars. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish but they’ll get over it.”
If people will get used to the idea of autonomous cars so soon is questionable but Google believes that it will take less than 10 years until the first self-driving vehicles will be available on the market.
The Silicon Valley based company sees a great future for the technology. “I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin. “I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human-driven cars,” he added.
Autonomous cars can make roads safer and reduce congestion because sensors detect other cars and swerve in and out to avoid collisions. The cars are equipped with an autonomous intersection manager that directs traffic at a much finer-grain scale than simply a red light for one direction and a green light for the other direction. As a result, traffic would constantly flow while avoiding even the slightest scrape to any car.
Google considers self-driving vehicles also to be a transportation mode for people who can’t drive themselves, such as the blind, disabled or elderly. However, the California legislation requires a licensed driver to sit behind the wheel to serve as a back-up operator in case of emergency. If the test phase goes well, though, autonomous cars could eventually be allowed to operate without any driver.
Although Google is at the forefront of self-driving technology, it doesn’t have any plans to produce its own cars but instead wants to partner with the industry to develop autonomous vehicles. Car manufacturers such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Ford have been working on autonomous car technology for years. In a few years time we could see a Mini Cooper, an Audi A4 or a Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe driving by us without anyone behind the wheel.