Get ready for more self-driving cars in California

Get ready to see more self-driving cars on California roadways: The state Department of Motor Vehicles said this week that it’s issued autonomous-vehicle testing permits to three companies. And more may be in the wings.

The first permits went to Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen’s Audi division, which will field two cars each, and to Google, which obtained permits for 25 of its retrofitted Lexus SUVs, according to the DMV.

Google’s self-driving Lexus vehicles are already a common sight on the streets around Mountain View, but under new regulations enacted this year, the giant tech company was required to obtain a state permit to continue testing those vehicles on public roads.

Google is also developing a new prototype vehicle that’s designed to operate without a human driver on board. The company says it will install temporary controls to meet California regulations for testing those new vehicles on public streets. But as we reported last week, the company is also planning to test the cars, without drivers on board, at Moffett Field, the federal airbase located next door to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Meanwhile, other car-makers are experimenting with partially autonomous vehicles that are capable of driving themselves under certain circumstances.  And Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who’s also interested in the notion, told the Wall Street Journal this week that he believes fully autonomous vehicles will be ready for the road in five to six years.

“They will be a factor of 10 safer than a person (at the wheel) in a six-year time frame,” Musk told the Journal.

(Google self-driving car on Silicon Valley’s Highway 101, photo by Brandon Bailey)


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