Reality of Autonomous Vehicles

Self-Driving and Autonomous Vehicles in Nevada
Nevada Paves the Way for Self-Driving Cars

In June of 2011, Nevada passed a law that authorized the Department of Transportation to develop rules and regulations governing the use of self-driving cars on its roads. A self-driving car or autonomous vehicle is one that uses artificial intelligence, sensors, and GPS coordinates to drive itself without human intervention. The most well-known would be the Google self-driving car. The law also tasked the Department of Motor Vehicles with setting safety and performance standards and required the DMV to designate areas where driverless cars may be tested. On March 1, 2012, less than a year later, this law went into effect. Two months after the law went into effect, the Nevada DMV issued its first license for an autonomous car, to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology.

By April 2014, Google had announced that their vehicles had logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles. Their self-driving car had clearly moved past the concept phase and had taken to the public streets for testing. The company first started road testing in northern California with one of Google’s engineers in the passenger seat. The self-driving car drives at the speed limit it has stored in its maps and maintains its distance from other vehicles on the road using sensors. Of course there is an override feature allowing a human driver to take control of the car if necessary, by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel, similar to a cruise control feature found in many cars today. In late May 2014, Google revealed a new prototype of its driverless car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, being 100% autonomous. Could this prototype be the end of bad drivers? If Google’s prototype car works as planned it really would eliminate the need for humans to make driving decisions.

Google, Tesla and Auto Technology in Nevada

Google was the first company to apply to test its self-driving car in Nevada, however other auto manufacturers have indicated their desire to test and develop such technology in the state. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors (which recently took up residency to build a gigafactory in the Reno/Sparks, Nevada area) just announced on March 19th this year that the next big software update for the Model S will roll out in the next 3 months with an autonomous features like auto-steering.

University of Nevada, Reno faculty member, Raul Rojas, an international expert on driverless automobiles said, “the industry will have autopilot commercial vehicles on highways by 2020.” The research and testing happening now includes simplifying sensors using video cameras. Rojas believes we will learn a lot from testing, but the industry is not at the point where autonomous cars are affordable. Currently the technology in these cars is very expensive with an self-driving vehicle costing upwards of $400,000. He also said the technology at the moment is ahead of all the legal questions surrounding driverless automobiles. “If all the cars were robotic, we would have no problems,” he said. “It’s coordinating this technology with humans.” For example, in the event of a crash, who’s responsible? Google or the car owner?

Nevada is one of the few U.S. states that have passed laws permitting autonomous vehicles and it became the first state to approve a license for self-driving cars on its roads. Nevada has even created specialized license plates for this new genre of car. However, currently the DMV is only accepting applications for testing. These autonomous vehicles are a reality, however, they are not available to the general public yet. Therefore just the manufacturers, software developers and others interested in testing self-driving vehicles in Nevada may do so in this state. The DMV does stipulate that in order to test an autonomous vehicle, it must have been driven for a combined minimum of at least 10,000 miles, contain a detailed description of the autonomous technology with a comprehensive safety plan, and include the plan for hiring and training test drivers.

Here are some of the unique aspects to consider about driverless vehicles:

6 Points to Ponder about Self-Driving Cars
  1. Time. An autonomous vehicle frees up time. In a driverless car, you can do anything you want. Text, work, eat, sleep, work, chat with relatives – commute time is no longer down time.
  2. Safety. Driverless cars would remove bad drivers from the road. By leaving the driving to computer systems, sensors and software, getting from home to the office should be rendered accident free.
  3. Efficiency. Driverless cars can talk to all the other driverless cars, and not only chatting with them, but communicating back and forth with “smart” roadways. This allows for all sorts of efficiencies to be realized. For example, one driverless car will know that the other driverless cars ahead of them will suddenly slow down, so now the gaps between can be shortened. The first driverless car in this line, when it realizes that it needs to stop or slow down, will then relay this information to all the other driverless cars in the line and so forth i.e. they react as a unit. Intelligent roadways will allow the timing of traffic lights to be optimized to the known level of traffic density and speed.
  4. Fault. Who’s at fault? If one self-driving car collides with another or with a human-driven car, who’s at fault? Who does the police officer give a ticket to? Who’s insurance pays the claim? Many legal provisions still need to be established when it comes to autonomous vehicles.
  5. Weather. Weather can have an impact on driverless cars. Heavy rain interferes with the roof-mounted laser sensor and snowy roads affect the car’s cameras. Google said its current cars can’t drive in certain weather conditions and experts say this is because the detection technology is not yet strong enough to separate certain objects from weather conditions.
  6. Driving and Drivers. Many car enthusiasts would most certainly disagree to give up driving their own vehicle. To some, driving is more than just getting to a destination, it’s a pleasure. Job losses could also be monumental, as there would less demand or no longer a need for professional drivers, such as taxi, limo and other service drivers.

For more on autonomous cars in the state of Nevada as well as rules and regulations, visit the Nevada DMV website.