Autonomous or robotic cars is the newest buzz in the automotive industry. It all started some three years ago when Google sponsored the self-driving car research program by Stanford University. The project created a lot of publicity. The video of Steve Mahan, a citizen with a 95% reduced eye sight, behind the wheel of an autonomous driving Toyota Prius, generated some 4,4 million views on Youtube. Google further invested in at least dozen cars with the self-driving technology on board. The fleet consisted of Toyota Prius, Audi TT, Lexus RX450h and Fiat 500. The Google’s robotic test cars have about € 125,000 in equipment including a laser radar system. In the past three years the system is tested on 100.000s miles of roads and under varying circumstances. Google says it has no immediate plans to commercially develop the system. Google has delivered the proof of the concept. It is now up to the product strategists at the major car brands to make it accessible to the public. Volvo has already released statements that they will have the technology in some sort of form available by 2014.
When a technology, as disruptive as this one seems to be, comes available, widespread adoption can be resisted for really any reason. For instance in this case: How will it be legalized?
Wired occupied themselves with the question if the NHTSA and its parents at the Department of Transportation are ready to implement legislation for autonomous cars. The answer is as stunning as logical: They have no clue.
The issue is that the legislation should not inhibit innovation on the one hand, on the other hand one can imagine that it is not desirable if just everybody can be in an autonomous vehicle. Or that every technology can implemented without any question on reliability or error margin.
One thing is clear though, if the self-driving technology becomes widespread, it will have a disruptive impact on driving as we know it for as long as a 100 years.