California legalizes self-driving cars

Raquel Erhard – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Los Angeles, CA, United States (4E) – California has authorized last Tuesday Google’s self-driving cars on its roads with a provision that a human passenger remains behind the wheel for security reasons.

Gov. Edmund “Jerry” Brown has signed the autonomous-vehicles bill into law beside Google co-founder Sergey Brin and State Senator Alex Padilla, who authored the bill, at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

The law, SB 1298, is set to establish safety procedures and requirements to recognize the road-readiness of the vehicles.

The cars, being tested by Google for two years now, combine different technologies including radar sensors in front, video cameras scanning the surroundings, plus various sensors and artificial-intelligence software to assist in steering.

Google has already been testing the cars in Nevada, where a law for driverless automobile was approved last year. As with California, the state requires the cars to have a human behind the wheel who could take over at any time.

Google said that the cars have accumulated more than 300,000 driving miles. Around 50,000 of those miles were without aid from human drivers. The car’s only documented accident was a fender bender that happened with a human in control.

Brin hopes to see self-driving cars on public streets in five years or less. This could happen after many legal and technical problems have been worked out.

A consumer-rights agency, Consumer Watchdog, has reservations about the cars on privacy grounds, saying it would enable Google to gather personal information about passengers.

Google’s first test vehicles were Toyota Prius Hybrids before they added Lexus RX450h, a crossover SUV, to try different terrain. The project is directed by Sebastian Thrun, a co-founder of Google Street View.

Google is the most visible company experimenting on these types of vehicles, other groups including Caltech, are also working on similar projects.

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