Google’s Self-Driving Cars On The Road Toward Approval In California

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Google's self-driving car gets a thumbs up from the California Senate to be road eligible.

Google's efforts toward getting more self-driving cars on the road just scored a big victory: the California Senate unanimously passed a bill favoring autonomous vehicle operation on the roads of the Golden State. Though the bill isn't on the same level as last year's legislation in Nevada that ultimately led to the legal operation of the cars there, it permits the Department of Motor Vehicles and California Highway Patrol to set safety and performance standards for self-driving vehicles. If California eventually follows Nevada's lead, Google's car could be taking a driver's test to get a license and open access to public operation soon, perhaps next year as the bill would go into effect in January 2013.

Senator Alex Padilla, who authored the bill, has become an advocate for the autonomous technology in the public policy sector. At a press conference announcing the legislation in March, he said, "I envision a future that includes self-driving cars," and added "Developing and deploying autonomous vehicles will not only save lives, it will create jobs. California is uniquely positioned to be the global leader in this field."

Now the bill has to be approved by the State Assembly, which is expected to give it the green light within the next month, and then eventually head to Governor Jerry Brown's desk. In terms of passing laws for driverless vehicles, California is not alone in it's recent move -- similar legislation is being considered in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, and Oklahoma. It's only a matter

The momentum is gaining for autonomous vehicles to become a common form of transportation, even as the debate about their safety and utility continues on.

To date, Google's self-driving cars have made some significant strides in just a few years. It was only in mid-October of 2010 when a post went out on Google's official blog announcing to the world that it had been working on robotic cars and that over 140,000 miles had been driven. In 2011, the car made news when it was involved in an accident, which turned out to have occurred when a human driver took over. Along with all the developments in Nevada to legalize the vehicles, the company released a video in March of this year of its first customer Steve Mahan, who is legally blind. Recently, the autonomous fleet passed a significant milestone by logging over 300,000 miles, and employees would now start commuting with the cars on their daily routes.

Along with increasing safety on the roads and spurring one of the few innovations gaining traction in the automobile industry, autonomous cars could have a huge impact on the auto insurance industry. Apparently, Google has already been in talks with insurance carriers about what the cost of coverage would be. In a state like California where auto insurance rates are some of the highest in the country, a significant dip in policy cost could be a big seller for self-driving cars, that is, once Google actually starts selling them.

Another potential cascade of benefits could come to Californians with the adoption of autonomous vehicles. Part of the struggle with implementing the use of robotic cars is that they have to strictly follow speed limits -- no checking around for the police and putting the pedal to the metal. Since higher vehicle speeds use more gas, keeping cars under the speed limit is good for wallets, along with being safer. If significant numbers of autonomous vehicles are on the road, they could even be used collectively to control the flow of traffic, which might help minimize traffic jams, thereby decreasing commute times and avoiding all that stop-and-go traffic that wears down vehicles and it bad for the environment. Finally, Google could continue creating jobs as it  research, design, and manufacture the systems close to its current operations in Mountain View and the secret Google X Lab believed to be in the Bay Area, where the autonomous cars were developed.

Considering all the good things that could come out of a shift to AI-controlled transportation, it's no wonder that the California senate voted 37-0 in favor of the bill.

It's exciting to see how quickly things are moving for autonomous vehicles to become available in light of how regulated transportation is in the US. If only the same degree of progress was being made in high-speed rail.

David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 4 Responses

  • irishinvenice September 5, 2012 on 11:46 am

    I think a bigger problem is consumers, I woudl love one of these cars but how much will they cost?

  • digitalcole September 6, 2012 on 3:05 pm

    Google Driver-less Car + Zipcar = A marriage made in heaven.

  • cre8tfutures September 8, 2012 on 7:36 am

    This is fantastic news! The key to exponential adoption is politics- and getting approval in a “nation-state” scaled economy so deeply engrained in a car culture is a noteworthy step in the right direction. Let me very direct- other economic ecosystems are absolutely not prepared for the adoption of these vehicles, and the issue isn’t that the industries impacted will resist- they are just so established in a status quo, they won’t change voluntarily. I am speaking of the ecosystem I lived within for 25 years- insurance, autobody repair, chiropractic- the tort system, with 50 unique state based regulatory bodies. At some point someone is going to realize 35,000 annual deaths- mostly young adults, 12bill gal of oil consumption, and finally turning the tide on CO2 are important enough to intervene with Federal regs. Autonomous vehicles need similar protections afforded to vaccines for example. Open up mobility to the 15% of US adults who are disabled, put an end to a fatality rate on par with any cancer, retain the tech leadership role the US has built- seems like worthwhile goals.
    PS- re Car sharing and autonomous cars- RIGHT ON!

  • eldras November 3, 2012 on 4:49 am

    Are these cheaper than a chauffeur? You can get one of those pretty cheaply. In fact you shouldn’t have to pay him. A bit of space top sleep and hang his clothes in, food and plenty of free time, I’ve never had a problem getting staff.