Google Inc. is pushing hard to bring cars driven by computers — not people — to market. To do so, the Silicon Valley giant persuaded states including California to pass laws explicitly legalizing the still-emerging technology. After all, a basic premise of driving is that a person controls the vehicle.
Though California's rules will go into effect in June 2015, barriers remain to the widespread availability of the cars of the future, whether made by Google or traditional automakers.
California's Department of Motor Vehicles has until the end of the year to finalize rules for the public's use of driverless cars (there is a 180-day lag between then and when a car might be permitted to hit the road). That's plenty of time for regulators to include requirements that manufacturers consider onerous, and thus delay the debut of a driverless car. Safety is a paramount concern. How does the DMV know that a car's computers can't be commandeered by a hacker? More fundamentally, how does the DMV know that the car drives safely under a range of conditions?
This week, Google said it plans to make 100 prototype driverless cars without steering wheels or pedals, and hopes to let select Californians use them once they have been tested for safety. But those cars have just two seats and max out at 25 mph. It's unlikely that Google will start mass producing full-sized driverless cars, at least not any time soon. While major automakers are accelerating the development of self-driving technology, none has publicly discussed the release of a fully driverless car before 2020.