The future is here folks. Cars that can actually drive themselves!
Long thought to be nothing more than a fantasy you’d see in a futuristic movie like Total Recall, or Dr. Dredd; Google has developed and long been testing 7 self-driving vehicles.
In fact, the cars have been legal for road-testing over the last two years on urban city streets in the states of Nevada, California, and Florida.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll be buying a robotic car that can run your 12 year old to soccer practice while you relax in the comfort of your own home – at least not yet.
Current laws, in the states which allow them, require that self-driving vehicles have a driver in the car in case unpredictable situations erupt. Meaning the car operates entirely via its onboard operating system, but the driver can take over at anytime if needed.
Nevada gets another ‘first’ for the history books
The state of Nevada were the first to allow testing on city streets.
Nevada was also the first city in the US to allow legalized boxing, first to allow UFC events, the fist state to legalize prostitution; so it’s no surprise they’re the first to allow a car to drive around its city streets with a computerized brain driving it.
They passed a law licensing driverless cars in 2011. Florida was a close second, allowing self-driving vehicles on their streets in early 2012.
California came next in September 2012.
Michigan recently signed legislation enabling automated cars on their roads in December of 2013.
Testing and development
The self-powered car looks pretty much the same as the many other Google vehicles (like the street view cars) scattered all over the roads in North America. You can easily distinguish a self-driver by two stickers on either side of the front of the vehicle that read “self-driving car”.
The search-engine-giant unveiled the first self-driving car; a modified Toyota Prius, back in 2009. Now their 7 car fleet of self-powered cars and SUVs have logged in close to 700,000 miles collectively.
Keep in mind that most of that mileage has been logged through highway driving.
Over the last two years, as California and Michigan have got onboard with the concept, Google has also been testing the cars on obstacle-filled city streets.
Never caused an accident
Google is proud of the fact that their software has never caused an accident. There’s been one incident so far when a human driver in another vehicle smashed into the back of one of the Google self-powered Prius’s.
You can learn more about how the car and software works here: How Google Self-Driving Car Works.
When will they hit car dealerships?
Google has no immediate plans to commercialize this concept vehicle as of now. There’s a lot of software development that still needs to take place, in order for the vehicles to be truly independent.
Chris Urmson, the head of Google’s self-driving-car project has said:
“Engineers have improved the cars’ software to recognize situations like pedestrian traffic, buses, stop signs held by crossing guards and hand signals made by cyclists.” (source)
Google consultant Larry Burns has speculated that they may be used for public transportation, long before they’re ever found parked in a residential driveway. (source)