Mentioned on Google’s official Google+ account recently, the development team behind the company’s self-driving automobile showed off a YouTube video detailing the journey of Steve Mahan. Mahan, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, is a legally blind resident of Morgan Hill, California. Since Google employees have tested the self-driving Toyota Prius for more than 200,000 miles, company officials felt confident of Mahan’s safety during an outing to a fast food restaurant as well as a stop to pick up some dry cleaning. The self-driving car did make headlines during August 2011 when the vehicle rear-ended another Prius, but that accident was attributed to human error. The computer-operated vehicle took Mahan through the drive-through at Taco Bell using technology like radar sensors and video cameras equipped on the vehicle.
Without a driver’s license, Google had to get permission from the local police department to allow Mahan to sit in the driver’s seat while the vehicle was in motion. The Morgan Hill Police Department placed Sergeant Troy Hoefling in the car with Mahan for the duration of the trip in order to avoid any legal issues.
In the video, Mahan states “95 percent of my vision is gone. I’m well past legally blind. You lose your timing in life; everything takes you much longer. There are some places that you cannot go. There are some things that you really cannot do. Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things.“
While this technology is likely many years away from becoming mainstream among consumers, Google has accomplished small steps towards establishing regulations that will allow self-driving vehicles on the road. During February 2012, Nevada became the first state to approve the use of self-driving vehicles on the roadways. Nevada state officials are also working on creating licensing procedures to allow car manufacturers to test cars within the state. Nevada residents will be able to recognize these self-driving cars by the color of the license plate.