In February, the state of Nevada approved laws that will allow Google to test self-driving vehicles on its roads. However, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has just issued the first licences this week after successful tests were conducted on the strip in Las Vegas. In this green light for self-driving cars, the potential has increased for the vehicles be made available to the public in just a few years.
The self-driving car technology from Google works like the auto-pilot in a plane. In the case of the company’s modified Toyota Prius, the technology guides the car with little to no intervention from whoever is behind the wheel. This is made possible by laser radars that are mounted into the vehicle’s grill and on its roof. This allows for pedestrians, cyclists and other cars to be detected; then a virtual buffer zone is created around the obstacles that the car avoids. The existing mapping software from Google is used to determine where the vehicle goes.
According to new regulations passed by Nevada’s state government, Google’s self-driving cars will have an insurance bond of $1 million. The company also has to provide detailed outlines of where they will test the vehicles and under what conditions. The rules also require the cars to have a minimum of two people inside at all times, and one of them has to be behind the wheel in case there’s a need for them to take control. The company has to display specially designed plates, which have an infinity symbol and red background, as well.
Nevada DMV director Bruce Breslow says he felt using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent a futuristic car. The unique red background will be easily recognised by law enforcement and the public. It will also be used only for licenced self-driving test vehicles. When car makers begin to market the autonomous cars to the public, the red background will become green and the infinity symbol will remain. He guesses this could come in the next three to five years.
Aside from Las Vegas, Nevada, Google has also carried out tests around San Francisco, California. It claims the modified vehicles have driven more than 200,000 miles, with one driving itself down one of the curviest and steepest roads in the world – Lombard Street. Engineers say that the only accident to have occurred was when another motorist rear-ended a self-driving car at a traffic light. However, Breslow says there’s one other problem the tests have revealed, and that’s the attention the cars attract for being safe – more people blow their horns.
Google’s self-driving car project has been headed by Sebastian Thrun, a 43-year-old engineer at the company, co-inventor of the mapping service’s Street View and the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He says he loved cars when he was young and lost his best friend to a car accident when he turned 18. That’s when he decided he would commit his life to saving one million people each year. These autonomous vehicles have sensors that allow them to magically see everything around them and make decisions about every facet of driving. It’s the perfect driving mechanism, and they have driven them in cities like San Francisco. They have tested them on Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles and even took on Lombard Street, he added.
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