What’s Next for Driverless Cars?

While Google may be mum on its plans for its driverless cars, state legislatures, other car manufacturers, and the car insurance industry are already formulating their responses to the new technology.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Last week we discussed how Google’s driverless car gets around. This week we look at what’s next for the self-driving car.

So far, Google’s been tight-lipped regarding plans for their autonomous vehicles. But state legislators, car manufacturers, and even the insurance industry are already responding.

Nevada licenses autonomous vehicles

When Google wanted to get their driverless cars on the road in truly legal fashion, they turned to Nevada. The Silver State lived up to its reputation for leniency on May 7, 2011, by becoming the first state in the U.S. to give self-driving vehicles the green light for testing purposes.

The law worked up by Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles requires at least 2 people be present at all times — one behind the wheel and another in the front passenger seat. The law also stipulates submission of detailed test plans (including what types of roads will be traveled) and a bond that could rise into the millions depending on the type of car to be tested.

Other states jump on the driverless car bandwagon

Not to be left out on the new wave of transportation, several other states are looking to pass similar legislation. First up is California’s “robotic car bill,” sponsored by Senator Alex Padilla of Pacoima, which will require the California Highway Patrol to develop regulations for testing driverless cars on public roads by companies and, down the road, consumers.

Oklahoma, Hawaii, and Florida are also considering rules that will allow autonomous cars on state roads.

Several car manufacturers look to outpace Google

Not to be (entirely) outdone by some upstart California tech company, car manufacturers all over the world are hard at work on their own (semi-)autonomous rides. Detroit giant General Motors is working on a fully autonomous version of their Chevy Tahoe. Although according to one CES Las Vegas attendee, it “looks more like the Ghostbusters hearse than a road-ready truck.” Good thing it’s still a decade away from production.

Much nearer on the horizon is Cadillac’s Super Cruise technology, which employs techniques similar to Google’s but only for very specific driving situations. Bumper-to-bumper traffic and long road trips, to be precise. Which you have to admit are scenarios in which most drivers would love to tune out.

Mercedes is also getting close, having developed self-driving versions of its E- and C-class models. Unfortunately, testing is still happening on closed tracks far from prying human eyes.

Volkswagen has taken a slightly different tack with its Temporary Auto Pilot system, which aims to lend human drivers a hand rather than replace them, only taking the helm should its human pass out or fall asleep.

Then there’s independent German firm Continental, which has managed the driverless mode without any of the external arrays relied upon by other manufacturers (i.e. it looks like a normal car). And with over 10,000 miles of test driving logged in legally pliable Nevada, the little-known German car maker is already miles ahead of the competition.

Insurance companies brace for a whole new class of “driver”

Back in April, Anthony Levandowski, the product manager on Google’s self-driving car project, announced that representatives from the company have been meeting with an as-yet-unnamed insurance company to discuss just what the cost of insuring such a vehicle would be.

One of the major issues to be hammered out is whether an autonomous car will require 2 distinct insurance policies: one for when the car’s doing the driving, and one for when the human has taken over.

We haven’t heard any more details on this (for us) very exciting aspect of development, but you can bet we’ll let you know when we do.

Related link

Nevada’s autonomous vehicle testing license (PDF)
Find out just what it takes to get an autonomous vehicle licensed in Nevada.

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