Soon, there will be a robot to drive you to your dentist appointment. These robocars, or autonomous vehicles, are merging into reality’s fast lane as the next high-tech trendsetter to make your life easier.
This week California Senator Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys) zipped over to the capital in one of Google’s self-driving Toyota Prius hybrids, where he announced legislation that would officially open California’s roads to robocars.
Currently, California does not ban autonomous vehicles from driving on public roads, but it doesn’t regulate them either. Padilla’s legislation does not legalize the cars of tomorrow, but, instead, allows California Highway Patrol to set up safety standards and performance requirements to ensure the safe operation and testing of these futuristic contraptions.
The bill isn’t that far-fetched either. Earlier this month Nevada became the first state to outline requirements for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. Padilla thinks California could be next on the list to harness this new tech trend.
This of course begs the question: If a robocar is speeding or cuts somebody off: Who pays? The guy who owns the car, but wasn’t driving? How about the company who designed the car? The programmers?
Now the question is what defines a self-driving robocar. Most cars have semi-autonomous technology features like cruise control, lane departure warning and even self-parking systems.
But, actually, none of that qualifies as autonomous tech under Padilla’s legislation. Instead he describes an “autonomous vehicle” as:
“… a motor vehicle that uses computers, sensors, and other technology and devices that enable the vehicle to safely operate without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator.”
Following in the steps of Knight Rider several automakers have been looking into using autonomous technology to create their own KITT.
Wired reports that Volkswagen worked closely with Stanford University through the Volkswagen Electronic Research Lab to create cars for the DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle races.
Before we put all these self-thinking cars out on the road it is important for tech companies to prove that they’re not going to blow through red lights or flatten little old ladies in the crosswalk.
Padilla told Wired:
“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 analyzing the driving environment more quickly and operating a vehicle more safely.”
Supporters of the movement also claim that the self-driving cars will increase safety, ease congestion. And, although Google sports a pretty clean driving record, they admit there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out.