Left to right: Google co-founder Sergey Brin, State Senator Alex Padilla, and Governor Jerry Brown
Left to right: Google co-founder Sergey Brin, State Senator Alex Padilla, and Governor Jerry Brown

On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1298 into law at Google HQ in Mountain View. He was joined by Google’s Sergey Brin and bill sponsor Alex Padilla.

Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima)
an MIT Engineering graduate said: ?Human error causes most traffic accidents and autonomous technology can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California’s roads.?

Padilla believes self-driving cars also will improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles, reduce emissions and enable cars to talk to one another to improve traffic flow.

California will adopt rules and regulations for the operating of driverless cars and also legalize their operation on public roads.

Senate Bill 1298 says: ?Existing law requires the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to adopt rules and regulations that are designed to promote the safe operation of specific vehicles, including, among other things, school buses and commercial motor vehicles. This bill would require the department to adopt safety standards and performance requirements to ensure the safe operation and testing of ?autonomous vehicles,? as defined, on the public roads in this state. The bill would permit autonomous vehicles to be operated or tested on the public roads in this state pending the adoption of safety standards and performance requirements that would be adopted under this bill.?

Google’s Sergey Brin explained why he’s excited about the technology -

access to transportation, getting stuff done while in traffic, and eliminating congestion being a few reasons. One interesting point that he took some time talking about involved car sharing and how that would beautify urban areas.

The driverless cars could drop off a rider and immediately go on to transport another rider. This perk to the technology was also mentioned recently by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), who think that self-driving cars could account for 75 percent of traffic on the road by the year 2040.

?I expect that self-driving cars are going to be far safer than human driven cars,? said Brin. He said he expects them to ?dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone.?

?I would hope that people can broadly utilize this technology within several years,? said Brin. When asked about a timeframe: ?I can count [the number of years] on my hands.?

?This self-driving car is another step forward in this long march of California leading the world,? said Governor Brown.

Dr. Azim Eskandarian, an IEEE member and director of the Center for Intelligent Systems at George Washington University, said: ?Think of the advantage for some populations, including the handicapped and impaired drivers, or the elderly who have trouble seeing at night.?


Steve Mahan is a blind ?driver? of Google autonomous car

Google, CalTech, DARPA, and Stanford have long championed the idea of a self-driving car. Google has been testing its own autonomous vehicle for more than two years. Brin said "I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone here in California, the country, and the world."

With more than 40,000 Americans killed each year in car accidents, "it’s at a substantial cost that we embrace our transportation systems, and I think that self-driving cars can eradicate much of those costs," Brin continued.

There’s also the matter of lifestyle. Many drivers find themselves stuck in traffic on a daily basis, and the ability to get some work done or just watch a video on your tablet while commuting could ease the aggravation of a traffic jam,

Brin explained: "Self-driving cars can actually chain together and use the highways more efficiently – potentially eradicating congestion."

In terms of parking, a self-driving car could drop you off at work and then drive itself to a location where it could park in a manner that’s more efficient than today’s parking lots. In an autonomous car parking lot, there wouldn’t need to be room to open doors and let passengers out, so more vehicles could use the same parking area.

"What I see in this project is the potential to really transform our urban centers and not need that much parking," Brin emphasized.

When asked when Americans might expect to see an autonomous car on the road, Brin predicted that we’d have access within five years. By year’s end, Google hopes to have a "broader subset of employees" test out the company’s self-driving cars, with wider access to come.

But will Google actually make a car? At this point, the company is running its autonomous technology on a Toyota Prius. Brin said Google has "had great conversations with a variety of auto makers," but the company does not currently have any plans to make its own vehicles.

Google's self-driving car uses radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. (Photo Credit - Google / September 25, 2012)
Google’s self-driving car uses radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. (Photo Credit – Google / September 25, 2012)

?We are looking at science fiction becoming reality in a self-driving car,? Brown injected.

The major car companies – including Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Volkswagen and Volvo – all have advanced self-driving car projects in the works. Many universities do, too. And of course, the Pentagon has been working on self-driving vehicle projects for decades

Volvo demonstrated its self-driving car technology in Spain in June by the vehicles in a "convoy" in normal traffic. The convoy consisted of a lead truck driven by a professional driver, with a self-driving truck and three self-driving cars following.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin emphasized: ?These vehicles have the potential to avoid accidents.? We can save lives, create jobs and reduce congestion.?

Self-driving cars must legally have a person at the wheel, ready to assume control if anything goes wrong. Google has driven its cars over 300,000 miles without an accident while in self-driving mode, a Google spokesman said.

The Bay Citizen notes that Google spent about $144,000 on lobbying efforts, and gave $89,000 to California political campaigns. Although, Google has a number of interests, and linking those dollars to this particular issue, when it could have been simple fascination with robotic cars, is dubious.

During the 2009-10 legislative session, Google gave campaign contributions totaling $64,000 to 36 members and successful candidates for the California State Senate and Assembly. It also gave $25,900 each to Brown and his unsuccessful Republican rival, Meg Whitman.

Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, John M. Simpson was less than enthusiastic for the bill. He said: ?Substantial safety and liability questions remain, on the privacy issue, the law gives the user no control over what data will be gathered and how the information will be used.?

?Google has repeatedly demonstrated that it only pays lip service to privacy concerns and repeatedly violated consumers’ privacy,? said Simpson. ?Consumers must have the right to give opt-in consent before any data gathered through driverless car technology is used for any purpose other than driving the vehicle.?

Last year, similar legislation was signed into law in Nevada. In addition, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are considering autonomous-vehicle legislation.

Once Nevada approves a self-driving car application, their DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) will issue a testing license along with sets of red license plates for the vehicles. When autonomous vehicles are eventually made available for public use, motorists will be required to obtain a special driver license endorsement and the DMV will issue green license plates for the vehicles.

The California legislation passed state Senator Padilla’s bill by 37-0 in the Senate and 74-2 in the Assembly. In voting for the legislation, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they believed the technology would make the roads safer and keep California at the forefront of innovation. There will be more testing and more press releases about Google’s successes.