Google’s self-driving car: Is this the next generation of autos?

Remember how adult you felt when you first got your driver’s permit? Make sure it’s preserved in your mind to tell your children, because now it’s Google’s self-driving car that’s spreading its wings. The company’s pie-in-the-sky project was approved for a license to hit the road in Nevada this week.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported, Google’s cars — clearly marked — will be able to legally drive on the state’s roads and highways as long as two people are in the car during the tests.

Google’s cars allow drivers to take control to steer and step on the brake, but are designed to eliminate the need to do so. Otherwise, the car uses GPS, traffic sensors and artificial intelligence software to drive.

Cars that drive themselves are supposed to reduce emissions, reduce accidents caused by human error and, of course, make tech geeks go green with envy. But how soon does Google think that these automated autos will be ready to show up in the average garage?

It’s sooner than you may think. In a Wall Street Journal article last month, Anthony Levandowski, who heads up software and sensor development for the cars, said that he expects that the cars will be sale-ready “much sooner than the next decade. If not, shame on us as engineers.”

It’s hard to place an exact value on “much sooner,” but Levandowski’s timeline means that kids in kindergarten now could theoretically learn to drive in a car that requires no driver.

As the Journal’s article noted, the cars are still many, many miles of testing away from that future, but Google is fielding input from car manufacturers and insurance companies on how to make a driverless car a consumer market reality.

The news out of Nevada has resurrected fears about the cars, particularly their susceptibility to malware, SlashGear reported. There have also been questions about safety, though the only recorded accident with Google’s self-driving car happened when a human driver was in control, MSNBC reported.

The Sun report said that the cars had been tested by Department of Motor Vehicles officials on the Las Vegas strip and in Nevada’s capital, Carson City.

The cars are probably the most well-known project to come of out of Google’s X Labs, where engineers are working on projects such as space elevators and Google Glass.

Related stories:

Google’s Project Glass: Gimmick or great idea?

Google glasses get a preview (VIDEO)

What else is Google X cooking up?

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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