Gov. Jerry Brown stopped by Google headquarters on Tuesday to sign a bill that lays the groundwork for allowing the company’s robot cars to one day zoom across the state’s highways and local roads.
But that raises an interesting question: When will we see that day?
In answer to a question at a press conference, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, wearing his Google Glass eyewear, said:
“We’ve been testing this on the streets with our engineers. We hope to have employees testing it within the year. I would hope that people more broadly would use this technology within several years.”
He added: “I don’t want to overpromise. We have some fairly ambitious goals. You can count on one hand the number of years until people can experience this.”
Still, Brin said there remains an enormous amount of testing and fixes to be done before it’s ready. He characterized these challenges as involving things like improving the sensors, and creating better and more reliable safety backups in the event any hardware or software fails.
“It’s a long list of things humans have coped with in the past,” he said, pointing toward airplanes as an example of vehicles that require complex backup systems. “The difficult part is dealing with every possible eventuality. We’re getting through a long list of eventualities.”
Google had once predicted the car would need 900,000 miles of safety testing, and to date has done about 300,000, Brin said.
“I think we’ve done 50,000 miles now without safety critical intervention,” he said. “But But that’s not good enough…The self-driving car is going to face greater scrutiny than any human would. And I think that’s appropriate.”
Now that SB 1298 has been signed, a bill legislators could barely wait to pass, the state’s DMV must now begin a rule-making process to iron out the finer details regarding robot cars.
In signing the bill, Brown noted that it’s likely to be an odd experience for both drivers and regulators at first glance.
“People who first get in the car, and find the car is driving will be a little skittish,” Brown said. “But they’ll get over it.”
So, why is Google doing this?
“We want to use and create technology that improves the world. And the car is a good example of that,” Brin said.
However, don’t expect Google to build any Tesla-style automotive plans in the years to come. Brin said the company will be looking to strike partnerships with other automotive companies to use the technology.
“I think anything we do will involve partnerships with the industry,” Brin said.