Nevada gives the green light to Google’s driverless cars

Molly Wood May 9, 2012

Nevada gives the green light to Google’s driverless cars

Molly Wood May 9, 2012

The roads of Nevada are going to be filling up with more cars — but not as many drivers. After extensive testing, Nevada has approved Google’s application to test driverless cars on public streets.

There are some rules. Two humans need to be on board, one in the driver’s seat, just in case. But the car may drive itself better than some human, some meatbag, could because it won’t get distracted.

Bruce Breslow: In Nevada, you see a lot of things on the road, especially driving down the Las Vegas strip.

Bruce Breslow is director of the DMV for Nevada.

Breslow: People still are texting. They’re still trying to dial a telephone number. You can surf the Internet in a lot of cars now, and those distractions lead to accidents, lead to fatalities. An autonomous car can ignore all of those distractions.

Breslow has been a passenger in one of these cars. He was impressed.

Breslow: Through the laser radar and scanners, they can see three cars ahead, three cars behind, everything in a 360 all the way around you.  They can tell the difference between a curb and a pothole, a person and a rabbit, and after about 30 seconds behind the wheel, after it changed lanes and merged into traffic, it was pretty easy.

Moe:  No screaming?

Breslow: No screaming, not at all.

I kind of love that at the same time we’re trying to get people to stop being distracted while they drive, there’s this whole other movement to let people be totally distracted and have the car drive for them.

So OK, besides the distractions, why go humanless?

Bryant Walker Smith is with the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. He says it could help traffic. Eventually.

Bryant Walker Smith: By automating driving, cars may someday be able to be lighter, smaller, use less space, travel closer together, generally use the existing roadway infrastructure more efficiently. Now that’s very long-term. In the short term, we may actually see something very different, which is self-driving cars behaving more cautiously, keeping more space, taking longer at stop signs.

And even further down the, uh, road, we could see a fundamental change in how we live.

Smith: For example, if I can sleep in my car, or I can do work and hold more meetings, I may be willing to take more trips. In the long term, I may be willing to send my car without anyone in it, and that may change land development patterns.

Best of all, car chases in movies could just show a bunch of actors sitting around texting.

Turning from road robots — roadbots? — to house robots, there are moments you realize: THE AGE OF THE JETSONS IS UPON US.

Robots to help clean the house are nothing new. The Roomba vacuum cleaner has been around for a while. But we haven’t seen robots that can both clean and be sassy, like Rosie from “The Jetsons.”

Well, say hello to Cocorobo, a new vacuum from Sharp. She he it speaks three languages: Japanese, Chinese, and English, and can also converse in a hip casual Japanese dialect. Ask it how’s it going, it says ‘I’m cool and feeling good.’

OK, not exactly the crackling witty dialogue of Rosie but this is just the start. Regardless: THE AGE OF THE JETSONS IS UPON US.

I confess I am scared of whatever event will cause us all to move into big apartment buildings on stilts and never visit the surface of the Earth.

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