Google Car legislation advances in California legislature

By on September 7, 2012

No one could have predicted that the sleeper issue of the Republican primary for Senate District 22 would be, um, driverless cars.

The race featured the first attack ad complaining about a political candidate’s support for the so-called Google Car. The candidate in question, Jeff Brandes, supported legislation that would allow autonomous, driverless cars on the roads in Florida.

Nevada has already passed such a law, and now it looks like self-driving cars are coming to California.

According to the Mercury News, SB 1298 from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, was passed unanimously by the Senate Wednesday night following the Assembly’s 74-2 approval Tuesday … The bill charges the DMV by January 2015 with determining standards for cars that would essentially operate on autopilot, since such technology is so new that the state’s vehicle code never mentions driverless cars.

The Economist assesses the technology:

Getting a car to drive along an open road without crashing into other vehicles is one thing. Getting it to handle a complete journey on its own—including navigating junctions and roundabouts, responding appropriately at pedestrian crossings and avoiding obstacles on the road—is rather more difficult.

To build such a machine costs around $1m for the car, kit, software, and brainpower, says Jonathan Sprinkle, co-leader of an American-Australian team that entered a driverless vehicle in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, a robotic-car contest sponsored by the research arm of the American Department of Defence. Because modern engines, drivetrains, and brakes already receive their instructions via electronic signals, there is surprisingly little need for additional mechanical parts.

What is needed, however, is an array of extra sensors to make cars more aware of their surroundings. Mapping nearby features, spotting road edges and lane markings, reading signs and traffic lights and identifying pedestrians is done using a combination of cameras, radar and lidar (which works like radar, but with pulses of light rather than radio waves).

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