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.