Google self-driving cars given run of Nevada roads

Advertising giant eager to see how they perform in real traffic

8 May 2012
Google self-driving car

Advertising giant Google's plans to use its technology to create a range of automated, self-driving cars has received a thumbs up from the Nevada Division of Motor Vehicles - albeit purely for small-scale testing.

Google has been keen to publicise its efforts in the self-driving car market, in which it aims to create vehicles that can get themselves home without human intervention.

Google's existing prototype vehicles have already logged up 250,000 miles of driver-free travel, the majority in Google's home state California, using a combination of global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation and camera-based sensor arrays to navigate the roads and avoid other traffic on the way.

Thus far, the technology has proved itself more than capable - with the sole exception of a five-vehicle collision, during which time Google claims a human driver had taken manual control of the car and the 'autopilot' was disengaged.

Nevada law requires that vehicles are tested for a total of 10,000 miles on private tracks before being allowed onto public roads - a total Google has long since exceeded. As a result, the Nevada Division of Motor Vehicles has granted the company a testing licence that will see it able to try out its technologies on real roads with traffic.

There are some restrictions to the licence, however: the law states that two humans must be in the vehicle at all times during testing, while the designated driver must have the ability to instantly override the navigation system and take control of the vehicle manually.

Google's work in this area is echoed by car manufacturers, with fully automated vehicles considered the next logical step above cruise control and lane-keeping technologies. Currently, however, nobody involved in this area of research is stating exactly when the technology will be ready for commercialisation.

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