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Nevada licences its first robocar (for testing)


I have not intended for this blog to become totally about robocars but the news continues to flow at a pace more rapid than most expected.

Nevada has issued its first licence for an autonomous car -- to Google, of course. This is a testing licence with a special red plate with an infinity symbol on it. It's a cool looking licence but what's really cool is that even in the 2000s when I would give talks on this technology and get called a ridiculous optimist, I never expected that we would see an official licenced robocar in the USA in the spring of 2012 -- even if only for testing.

This is a picture of a car with a California plate. The new plate has licence number 001, you can see a picture here.

The Nevada law enabled both the testing of vehicles in the state and their eventual operation by regular owners. For testing, the vehicles need to have two people in them, as has been normal Google policy. They must do 10,000 miles first off of Nevada roads -- either on test tracks, or in the case of the early vehicles, in other states that don't have a 10,000 mile requirement. German auto and tire supplier Continental has said it's been racking up the 10,000 miles and wants to apply, and press reports say other applicants are in the wings. As far as I know this is the first officially licenced car in the world, though several other research cars have gotten special one-off permits to allow them to be tested on the roads in places like Germany and China.


"I have not intended for this blog to become totally about robocars..."

You have been assimilated, resistance is futile... :)

-- roschler


I have followed your blog for the last few years and it has been quite amazing that what looked to be decades away a few years ago now looks to be much closer. The rapid development of new more sophisticated cruise control and lane keeping systems as well as the continuing success of the Google car brings automated driving much closer. There surely is going to be some major convergence with these technologies.

It would be interesting to see a timeline prediction on how all this is going to play out. Towards that end here is a challenging question if you would like to guess: In what year do you think that self drive cars would make up 50% of the road traffic in the USA? (At the current rate my own guess would be around 2030, does this sound reasonable?)

And assuming that self driving cars allow taxis to be a cheaper transport option than owning a car, do you think that the majority of these cars could be taxis?

The technology predictions are getting easier. The sensors are expensive today but there is nothing about them that prevents them from getting down to reasonable prices with Moore's law and high volume economies of scale. While I can't comment on the state of Google's tech, everybody still has some distance to go to handle every road, every situation. But you don't need to do every road, every situation to have a big impact.

So the real unknowns are marketing and legal issues. For now the law is being surprisingly embracing. Will opponents of the technology bend it other ways when it threatens large players, or jobs? JD Power's survey said 37% of people would buy it today (though only 20% if it cost $3,000.) I expect that number to go up a lot when people actually try it. People buy hew cars every 5 years.

Getting to the taxi model, which I do agree is the right model, is more difficult because it requires almost every road, almost every situation.

One big milestone, whose date I can't say, would be a court reversing the tide, and telling a driver or a car company that they have more liability because they didn't have autonomous driving, just as they do for not having an airbag, or crumple zone, or seatbelt. Suddenly it will all change.

I am surprised at the general lack of interest in the recent advances made towards fully automated driving. From what I have seen in the news the Google car is presented as little more than a curiosity with virtually no comment on the deeper possibilities. Most people see only the car and not the very different (and efficient) transport system that may lie behind it.
At this stage of development this is not necessarily a bad thing as quietly building up a safe history of operation is probably critical for any future success.

When the time comes for marketing, still many years away, perhaps key players could sponsor a serious sci-fiction film with an automated driving system as a backdrop. Pictures are still worth many thousands of words.

The legal system basically interprets and applies the laws of the day. If the public embraced the idea of driver-less cars then over time the laws should change to accommodate this. (At least that is how democracy is meant to work). To win over the public, safety, low cost and convenience would be essential. I am sure many people will be working hard to achieve this.
When the court cases start, it will be interesting how much weight will be given to the overall safety of robocar as opposed to individual cases where it fails and causes fatalities. The question you raise of people being prosecuted for their human errors that could of been avoided by using automated transport is also going to create plenty of controversy.

There already is a "serious sci-fiction film with an automated
driving system as a backdrop" -- Minority Report!

But you don't have to read dystopian sci-fi to realize there
will be two unfortunate consequences of the ill-advised push
to "robo-cars":

The first, immediate result will be 100% government tracking
of all travel undertaken in automated cars. These records
will be available to government agencies, law enforcement,
lawyers with supoenas, and sufficiently clever hackers.

The second result, which will happen gradually but is still
inevitable, is goverment-imposed restrictions on travel in
automated cars by anyone deemed sufficiently "undesirable":
parolees, tax cheats, litterbugs, jaywalkers, etc. If you
think the "do not fly" list is a good idea, you'll love

I'm waiting for the thread on this blog that undertakes a
serious discussion of the downsides of automated driving,
but I'm not holding my breath. The fervor of True Believers
who worship at the alter of technology is as strong as that
of any fundamentalist cult.


How do you see the radar mounted on the top of the shrinking? Could it be separated and placed in the four corners of the car, or does it need to be high so it can "see" better?

Right now, I'm thinking that the largest remaining hurdle will be insurance and liability and not technology. The politicians will have to decide *who* is at fault when an accident occurs. In other words, I don't want to let the *courts* decide. That would take about 100 years or more.

Like everyone, I too am amazed at the apparent speed of robocar deployment.

And like Steve, I'm guess that they will be introduced in the taxi industry first.

What about trucking? A robotruck could run 24x7 with no silly sleep breaks.

Can't wait,

My dream vehicle would be the RoboRV. I could relax, eat, and sleep while the vehicle drove itself and me to the destination, and when there I would have a place to stay. Ok maybe this would not replace the airplane for speed and distance, but would expand my local area of travel. RVs and cars offered in a car sharing model. One time sign up as a member and then rent by the hour, day, or week as needed.

But I describe it not as a wonder (though it would be cool) but as an ecological and traffic nightmare. And yet, it is cool enough that the wealthy will want it, and if it becomes common it might actually get banned in the cities and really heavily taxed in the country. You can read my downsides article and there is also stuff in the articles on design changes.

Your thoughts on the technologies effect on public transport? I see governments and cities getting out expensive public transport if everyone gained access to robo vehicles. But this would likely add to the cost for the need of more roads and more traffic (robo traffic)

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