May 11, 2011

Google Pushes for Nevada to Allow Its Self Driving Cars


Driverless cars. It seems like these are the cool gadgets that only end up in futuristic SciFi movies. Perhaps you remember KITT, the automated Pontiac TransAm in the TV series Knight Rider which drive by itself upon command?

Search engine giant Google (News - Alert) has been toying with the technology for years. In fact, back in March, the company showed off its cutting-edge, self-driving cars to a select group of attendees and journalists at the Technology Entertainment Design conference. Google hopes the cars' reliability — each one has traveled 140,000 miles without an accident — will eventually help to reduce the 37,000 road deaths in the United States each year.

Now Google is lobbying Nevada lawmakers to allow Google's self-driving cars there, the New York Times reports.

To achieve their goal, and the dream of the project’s creator and former Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, Google has hired LA’s Vegas lobbyist David Goldwater to alter existing Nevada state laws. Two key changes need to be made, the first would be a bill allowing for the licensing and testing of autonomous cars, while a second would then deal with issues of distracted driving, essentially allowing for the ‘driver’ of the car to text while driving, as he or she really wouldn’t be in control of the vehicle anyway.

Thrun has been a vocal proponent of autonomous cars, claiming they would cut down on pollution and drastically reduce the number of road fatalities caused by human error.

The issues, however, seem to be focused on liability and safety, despite the clean driving record reports of test models. With six Toyota Priuses and one Audi TT as the vehicles-turned-autonomous, each vehicle is overseen by a driver and a second Google employee who monitors the equipment from the passenger seat.

David Goldwater, a Las Vegas lobbyist, was tapped by Google to push for some law shaking by lobbying for an amendment to an electric-vehicle bill providing for the licensing and testing of autonomous vehicles, and an exemption that would permit texting.

Goldwater argued before the State Assembly on April 7, saying that the, “autonomous technology would be safer than human drivers, offer more fuel-efficient cars and promote economic development.”

Nevada seems to be the first state to even consider releasing vehicles that may park themselves and perform automatic deliveries on the commercial level. Because of some very old laws, some of which go back to the horse-and-carriage era, new laws will be required.

State lawmakers can vote on legislation to allow licensing and testing of the vehicles by June.


Michelle Amodio is a TMCnet contributor. She has helped promote companies and groups in all industries, from technology to banking to professional roller derby. She holds a bachelor's degree in Writing from Endicott College and currently works in marketing, journalism, and public relations as a freelancer.