MOUNTAIN VIEW, California, September 25, 2012 (ENS) – California Governor Jerry Brown today took a test ride in a self-driving car before signing into law new safety standards and regulations for the autonomous vehicles. The law takes effect on January 1, 2013.

Governor Brown said the bill paves the way for the new technology that could reduce highway fatalities, pollution and congestion while expanding mobility options for elderly and disabled people.

“Autonomous vehicles are another example of how California’s technological leadership is turning today’s science fiction into tomorrow’s reality,” said the governor. “This law will allow California’s pioneering engineers to safely test and implement this amazing new technology.”

Alex Padilla

California State Senator Alex Padilla with a self-driving car at the Googleplex, September 25, 2012 (Photo courtesy Senator Padilla)

Senate Bill 1298 by Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat, allows driverless cars to be operated on public roads for testing purposes, provided that each vehicle has a fully licensed and bonded operator in the driver’s seat to take control if necessary. The bill instructs the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern the licensing, bonding, testing and operation of autonomous vehicle technology.

The governor signed the bill in a ceremony at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View because Google’s fleet of autonomous vehicles has already logged 300,000 test miles on California’s roads and highways.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the signing ceremony, “Self-driving cars can transform lives and communities – providing transportation to those not currently served, increasing safety on the road, reducing or eliminating congestion, and turning parking into parkland.”

“Governor Brown’s signature today represents an opportunity for our state to lead the nation in driverless vehicle technology,” said Padilla.

“Autonomous technology is not science fiction,” he said. “We are living in the era of Moore’s Law where every two years we double our computer processing speeds. This is allowing us to make exponential leaps in advanced technology. To a large extent, that progress has made self-driving cars possible sooner, rather than later. Establishing safety standards for these vehicles is an essential step in that process.”

In just 28 years, driverless, autonomous vehicles will account for up to 75 percent of cars on the road, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Members of IEEE, which calls itself the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity, earlier this month selected autonomous vehicles as the most promising form of intelligent transportation.

The increased use of driverless cars will be the catalyst for transforming vehicular travel over the next 28 years, changing traffic flows, intersections, highways and eliminating the need for drivers’ licenses, the IEEE members predict.

Driverless cars operate using sophisticated, communicating sensors to ensure safe, efficient travel. Through vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication there may be no need for traffic lights and stop signs when all of the cars on the road are driverless.

“Intersections will be equipped with sensors, cameras and radars that can monitor and control traffic flow to help eliminate driver collisions and promote a more efficient flow of traffic. The cars will be operating automatically, thereby eliminating the need for traffic lights,” said Alberto Broggi, IEEE senior member and professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma in Italy.

No stranger to autonomous vehicles, Dr. Broggi was the director of a 2010 project that enabled two driverless cars to successfully complete an 8,000-mile road trip, traveling from Parma to Shanghai.

“With any form of intelligent transportation, building the infrastructure to accommodate it is often the largest barrier to widespread adoption,” he said. “Since we can use the existing networks of roadways, autonomous vehicles are advantageous for changing how the majority of the world will travel on a daily basis.”

Highway travel would be vastly different than it is today. Autonomous and traditional vehicles would each have their own designated lanes, minimizing traffic jams, increasing efficiency and allowing for speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

Broggi believes that, “speed limits of up to 100 miles/hour (160 km/hour) are absolutely possible by 2040.”

“Through use of dedicated lanes on the highway, it will provide more streamlined flows of traffic, which will make the transportation with these vehicles more energy efficient,” said Dr. Azim Eskandarian, IEEE member and director of the Center for Intelligent Systems Research, at George Washington University in Virginia.

“This new traffic flow, coupled with the increase of automated travel, will also enable cars to travel more safely while going faster and perhaps with closer gaps in between them, while platooning (or using autonomous features), specially at free-flow traffic,” said Eskandarian.

IEEE members predict that autonomous vehicles will make car sharing programs more prevalent. A driverless car will pull up, carry a passenger to his or her destination and then be ready for the next user.

“Since cars today are parked for more than 90 percent of their lifetime, shared car services will promote more continuous movement, garner more efficient operation and use less gas,” explained Broggi.

Driverless vehicle sharing programs will enable people of all ages and abilities to utilize these vehicles, eliminating the need for driver’s licenses, the IEEE members believe.

“People do not need a license to sit on a train or a bus,” said Dr. Eskandarian. “In a full autonomy case in which no driver intervention will be allowed, the car will be operating autonomously, so there will not be any special requirements for drivers or occupants to use the vehicle as a form of transportation, but the vehicles will obviously need many more certifications and should meet new standards.”

The IEEE visionaries acknowledge that driver and passenger acceptance are the greatest barriers to widespread adoption of driverless cars.

“Drivers and passengers are hesitant to believe in the technology enough to completely hand over total control,” said Jeffrey Miller, IEEE member and associate professor in the Computer Systems Engineering department at University of Alaska, Anchorage.

“Car manufacturers have already started to incorporate automated features, including parallel parking assistance, automatic braking systems and drowsy driver protection, to help people slowly ease into utilizing driverless technologies,” said Miller. “Over the next 28 years, use of more automated technologies will spark a snowball effect of acceptance and driverless vehicles will dominate the road.”

“Tragically, thousands of Californians die each year in auto accidents,” Senator Padilla said. “The vast majority of these collisions are due to human error. Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to reduce traffic accidents and save lives.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.