Cars on the road don't always need drivers, according to new Nevada legislation that allows driverless vehicles in the state.
Assembly Bill 511, the first such legislation in the country, allows the state's Department of Transportation to draw up rules that would authorize such automated vehicles. The regulations would include safety standards, insurance requirements and testing sites.
A driverless car is defined by the bill as using "artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator." That includes technology such as lasers, cameras and radar.
So far, such driverless cars have logged more than 140,000 miles on California roads as part of an endeavor by Google Inc. But Google always puts a driver behind the wheel, ready to take over if necessary, and a software operator in the passenger seat who monitors the technology.
Stanford University robotics professor Sebastian Thrun, a project leader on Google's effort, said that nearly all driving accidents are due to human error rather than mistakes by machines.
"Do you realize that we could change the capacity of highways by a factor of two or three if we didn't rely on human precision on staying in the lane but on robotic precision, and thereby drive a little bit closer together on a little bit narrower lanes and do away with all traffic jams on highways?" he said in a speech at the TED 2011 conference in Long Beach this spring.
In Europe, efforts are underway to create "car platoons," in which drivers could hook up their vehicles electronically to form a chain controlled by the first vehicle in the line.
The Sartre project, or Safe Road Trains for the Environment, envisions convoys of cars led by a professional driver in front, allowing the rest of the drivers to kick back and relax. Wirelessly controlling the distance and speed between cars in the caravan can cut back on accidents, improve fuel efficiency and limit congestion, researchers believe.