Drivers of the Silver State, beware: Very soon, you’re going to be sharing your roads with cars that lack a driver – and you won’t even know which ones they are. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles voted today to approve Google’s application to test their “self-driving” vehicles throughout the state, becoming the first state to allow the self-styled “car of the future” out into the public for the first time.
The application was approved by the DMV’s Autonomous Review Committee after careful review of the company’s safety plans, system functions, accident reporting mechanisms and employee training. Three of the specially-adapted Toyota Priuses have been granted permission to be tested on Nevada public roads, with each one identifiable not only be the hardware adaptations it has undergone, nor the “Google Self-Driving Car” decals it will sport, but also the specially-created license plate each car will be given, featuring an infinity symbol against a red background. According to Department Director Bruce Breslow, “I felt using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future.’ The unique red plate will be easily recognized by the public and law enforcement and will be used only for licensed autonomous test vehicles.”
Google has been testing the autonomous vehicles for some time, with eight cars having clocked up an impressive 160,000 miles in private Californian roads so far. The cars use a combination of Google Street View and information gathered by onboard sensors (including cameras and lasers amongst other technology) to navigate, accompanied by a passenger who can, if necessarily, override the AI and take control of the car immediately. Sounds weird? Not according to David Goldwater, who lobbied for Google in Nevada and has been a passenger on earlier tests, and said that it’s “like riding in any car,” adding “I have not been afraid at all riding in it. It is no different than when you get to an airport and fly in a plane that is automatically controlled 90 percent of the time.”
(Of course, there are now planes that are automatically controlled 100% of the time, which may seem only slightly more unnerving than sharing the road with a robot who doesn’t understand the concept of “merging.”)
To ensure maximum safety during the Nevada tests, the Google cars will seat two passengers prepared for any eventuality, meaning that they might seem almost indistinguishable for any other car on the road, if you can get over the cameras, branding and special license plates. Well, until Google Maps suggests that they take a side street that doesn’t actually exist, of course.