California legalized so-called self-driving cars yesterday. Nevada has actually issued a drivers license to a robot car. And while Texas isn't exactly stepping on the gas with regards to driverless cars, it isn't stuck in neutral either.
The only traffic-ready self-driving car is currently offered made Google – although it’s not for sale. The system uses sensors and computers to navigate through traffic. Current laws require a human to sit in the driver’s seat, in case something goes haywire with the computer.
Google says its fleet of six Toyota Priuses, an Audi TT, and a Lexus RX450 hybrid have logged more than 300,000 trouble-free miles. There have been two collisions, but the company says that neither was the robot driver’s fault.
While the prospect of seeing a car with no driver may be terrifying – especially if the car is converging with you at an intersection – robots have some advantages: they don’t get tired, drunk, or distracted by their phones, apply makeup, eat breakfast, or skim text messages. Robot drivers are always on-duty, fully-functioning, and paying attention. (Unless of course they have a software bug, or a system failure, or some wires shake loose.)
But when will the Google car come to Texas? The Texas Department of Transportation says they’re not aware of any plans to put robot drivers on Lone Star roads. The Texas Legislature would have to pass new laws allowing self-driving cars, and it meets next in January.
But the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the primary research center for Texas roadways, tells KUT News its researchers are visiting Google next week to learn more about the self-driving cars. And here in Austin, University of Texas research is focusing on creating not intelligent automobiles, but intelligent intersections that could leave the driving to your car.
Many other states are considering whether or not to put robots on the road. Auto manufacturers, including BMW, Audi, Cadillac, and Volvo, are working on self-driving technologies. And Ford and Lexus have cars that can park themselves.
If the trend continues, it may not be long before human drivers are the ones who need special permission to get behind the wheel.