Google has been quietly experimenting with driverless cars for years, and now wants to try them out on Nevada's roads. But the search-engine giant must persuade Nevada's legislature.
Google lobbyist David Goldwater told the state assembly last month that "autonomous" cars are safer and more fuel-efficient than the people-driven variety. Lawmakers are to vote on the issue before the current session ends in June.
Proponents say Google's robot drivers never get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated. The sensor-laden vehicles react faster than human drivers and don't have blind spots, thanks to a rotating roof-mounted laser range-finder that scans more than 200 feet in all directions to generate a 3-D map.
Google's fleet of six driverless Toyota Priuses and an Audi TT have radar and video cameras that locate the car's position on the map and watch for stop lights and obstacles.
Google says it has put the vehicles through 1,000 miles of testing in California, plus another 140,000 miles with occasional human involvement. While testing, the vehicles can be overridden by a real driver. The only accident during the secret test program occurred when a car steered by a person plowed into the rear end of a test vehicle that was stopped at a red light.
The company hasn't said what commercial plans it has for the vehicles or why it chose Nevada to seek testing rights.
"In some respects this is a great template and a great model," Ryan Calo, a legal scholar at Stanford Law School told the New York Times. "It recognizes a need to create a process to test these vehicles and set aside an area of Nevada where testing can take place."