By Joanna Stern
Nevada is putting the pedal to the metal on those autonomous automobiles.
It was just two months ago that the state approved and set regulations that would allow self-driving vehicles on the state’s roadways. And today it announced that it has approved Google for the first testing license under the new rules.
Google, which was instrumental in pushing through the original legislation in Nevada, has been testing its very own self-driving automobile for a number of years on its campuses and other secret locations. (“Good Morning America” even took it for a spin in 2010.)
“It is the first license issued in the United States under new laws and regulations that put Nevada at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development,” the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles said in a statement.
This now means that Google will be able to test its self-driving Toyota Priuses on the roads; yes, up and down the Las Vegas strip. Other drivers will be able to tell self-driving cars apart by a red license plate, which features an infinity symbol on the left. Of course, they also will be able to tell the difference by the large scanning laser device on the top of the car.
While Google is the first to file for an application for a license in Nevada, other car manufacturers such as BMW and Audi are working on similar vehicles. The cars themselves use a mix of hardware and software to drive themselves.
Google maintains that the technology is not supposed to replace drivers, but rather help them. Instead of attempting to text while driving or change the GPS location, drivers can let the car do the work while they are distracted. Nevada requires that two drivers be in the test cars now, a human back-up driver and a passenger. In the limited test program, however, Google is asking to exempt those back-up drivers from text messaging while driving laws.
Humans can always gain control of the car by taking hold of the wheel or stepping on the brake.
While this is a big step in the future of the self-driving vehicle, we probably won’t be seeing these cars hitting prime time just yet. Google’s version is still in the prototype phase. General Motors has predicted the technology will be standard by 2020.