There’s no question that I love technology. But if there’s one new development in tech that scares the living daylights out of me, it’s Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) self-driving car.
Granted, the technology behind it is remarkable. But as I said when I discussed it in December, you can’t brave the South Florida stretch of I-95 for three years and not be frightened about the potential devastation driverless cars could bring to the world.
Whether we like it or not, though, it’s coming.
By October 2010, when Google first announced that it was working on the technology, the company had already test-driven the car for 140,000 miles. They were able to drive for 1,000-mile stretches at a time without the driver lifting a finger. And, astonishingly, they were met with only one accident. Which, according to Google’s engineers, was the other driver’s fault.
By now, the test cars have clocked over 200,000 miles and counting, and Google’s been busy getting regulators on board…
Driverless Cars Hit the Strip
In February, Nevada gave Google the green light to test its self-driving cars on the open road.
One of the rules states that autonomous testing vehicles will display a red license plate. And the consumer-ready driverless cars that eventually hit the market will get green plates. That way, worried drivers (like me) sporting old-fashioned, manually operated cars can steer clear of potential danger.
Other states, like California, don’t exactly prohibit these cars. But Nevada is the first in the United States to officially approve the technology. You can bet it won’t be the last, however.
According to Department of Motor Vehicles Director, Bruce Breslow, “Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles.”
With self-driving auto policies shaping up, now all Google needs to do is get consumers pumped about the technology’s prospects. And that’s where Steve comes in.
Put to the Ultimate Test
Some Google engineers took Morgan Hill, California resident, Steve Mahan, for a spin in a self-driving Toyota (NYSE: TM) Prius.
Along for the ride was Sergeant Troy Hoefling of the local police department. Why?
Because Steve – who happens to be 95% blind – doesn’t have a license. Yet he was able to “drive” Google’s autonomous car like a champ. See for yourself…
Of course, (thankfully, I might add) it has a long way to go before it’s ready for primetime.
As you can see in the video, Steve isn’t exactly driving the car by himself. A Google engineer is sitting next to him, entering new destinations and making sure the car stays on course.
Yes, considering we already have voice-controlled navigation systems in cars today, hooking that up to Google’s self-driving software shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. But I couldn’t imagine current navigation technology being able to pull up to the Taco Bell drive-thru without at least a little assistance from the driver.
As Google says, “We organized this test as a technical experiment outside of our core research efforts, but we think it’s also a promising look at what this kind of technology may one day deliver for society if rigorous technical and safety standards can be met.”
Still, no matter how “rigorous” Google’s safety tests are, I’m not sure I’ll be partaking in the coming autonomous vehicle craze once it hits. Will you?