A California state senator on Thursday said he would introduce a bill Friday that would begin the process for self-driving cars to operate on California roads.
Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said that he would introduce S-1298, a bill that would direct the California Highway Patrol to develop guidelines for the safe testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in California. The bill mirrors similar legislation introduced in Nevada last year.
Padilla drove to a press conference in a Google-designed self-driving Toyota Prius, the same model that Google has tested on California roads. A Google representative said that the cars have driven 200,000 miles on California roads, so it naturally made sense for Google to lobby the state for their approval.
Google stunned the industry in late 2010 when it disclosed that it not only had developed an autonomous car, but had successfully tested it on public roadways. The cars use a combination of ultra-precise GPS technology plus a rotating dome, which projects a 64-beam infrared laser.
Google's self-driving car also carries other sensors, which include: four radars, mounted on the front and rear bumpers, that allow the car to "see" far enough to be able to deal with fast traffic on freeways; a camera, positioned near the rear-view mirror, that detects traffic lights; and a GPS, inertial measurement unit and wheel encoder, that determine the vehicle's location and keep track of its movements. Google disclosed these details at at a 2011 technology conference, according to Discovery News.
Google also disclosed how Google engineers accompany the cars on the route one or more times so that the car can distinguish pedestrians from mail boxes, apparently in much the same way Google Street View engineers helped map many of the world's roads. That all contributes to the safety of the vehicle.
"The vast majority of vehicle accidents are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle is capable of analyzing the driving environment more quickly and operating the vehicle more safely," Padilla said. "Autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and improve safety on our roads and highways."
"It was pretty amazing when Google's vehicle went into self-driving mode, Padilla said. "The drive was smooth and safe. It worked flawlessly. It is a testament to human ingenuity and the power of technology in California."
What's next? Presumably, the California CHP would craft rules for the testing and later operation of the self-driving cars, as Nevada recently did. Those rules call for the cars to carry red license plates during testing, then green plates when the cars become operational.
Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are also considering autonomous vehicle legislation, according to Padilla.