Nevada Gives Ok For Driverless Cars

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Getty Images, Bill Pugliano

Self-driving cars designed by Google will soon be a reality on the roads of Nevada.

State legislators have passed a bill that requires the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to draw up rules for driver-less vehicles.

Assembly Bill No 511 paves the way for Google’s automated Toyota Priuses and Audi TT to be operated legally in the Silver State.

The hybrid vehicles use laser range finders and video cameras to detect traffic, and detailed maps to find their way from point to point.

‘Drivers’ simply set their destination and the car calculates the route and drives itself there.

The first amendment, which was passed last week, relates to an electric-vehicle bill providing for the licensing and testing of autonomous vehicles.

The second amendment, which has yet to be passed, is for an exemption that would permit sending a text message while ‘behind the wheel’.

Google had hired Las Vegas-based lobbysit David Goldwater to promote its proposed legislation.

In April, Mr Goldwater told lawmakers that the self-driving cars are safer than those driven by humans and are more fuel efficient.

Google ran into controversy last year after it emerged staff had been testing the driver-less car on California’s roads.

The vehicles logged more than 140,000 miles around the state – almost all of them on auto-pilot.

While staff were in the car, their hands were not on the steering wheel.

The specially-adapted Toyota Priuses drove from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Northern California, down the famously scenic Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica.

They also drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and down San Francisco’s Lombard Street, one of the steepest and curviest roads in the world.

Seven cars, which have funnel-like cylinders on the roof that acts as the vehicle’s ‘eye’, have driven 1,000miles at a time without any hands-on human input, Google said.

Their researchers claim the artificial intelligence technology could eventually halve the 1.2million lives lost every year on roads around the world.

The cars have a person in the driving seat ready to step in if there is a problem and a software engineer sits shotgun to take care of possible software hiccups.

They keep to the speed limit because the maximum for every road is included in its database.

So far, said Google, the trips have been almost accident free. The only hitch came when another – human-driven – car rear-ended one of the pilotless Priuses.

‘Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use,’ Sebastian Thrun, the researcher in charge of the project, said in March.

‘Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps which we collect using manually driven vehicles to navigate the road ahead.

Mr Thrun insisted the cars we’re not a danger to other motorists.

‘Safety has been our first priority in this project. Our cars are never unmanned. We always have a trained safety driver behind the wheel who can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control.

‘And we also have a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software.

‘Any test begins by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance.

‘And we’ve briefed local police on our work.’

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