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California Senator Rolls Out Autonomous Vehicle Bill, Rolls Up In Google Car

Publication Date: 
March 01, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle - The Tech Chronicles
James Temple

Director of Privacy and Robotics at the Center for Internet and Society M. Ryan Calo spoke with James Temple of the San Francisco Chronicle on a new bill proposed in the California Senate regarding autonomous vehicles.

Years after Google’s autonomous cars began zipping up and down California highways, a state Senator has introduced a bill that would affirm the legality of such vehicles and establish a framework for creating safety rules.

Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) is set to tout the bill and technology as means of decreasing traffic accidents in California at a Sacramento press conference this morning. He will arrive in one of Google’s modified Toyota Prii (yes, that’s the plural form for Prius) and be accompanied by officials from the Mountain View search company.


“Part of this is really about starting a discussion in the public sphere about these vehicles, their role and the appropriate regulations,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research, said of the proposed law. “And that may be the greatest value.”


Stanford’s Smith stressed that technical limitations remain.


In an earlier interview, Ryan Calo, director of robotics at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford, raised the question of what happens when an autonomous car programmed to avoid baby strollers and shopping carts is confronted by both at the same time. If it swerves the wrong way, that could be the end of the autonomous driving experiment, he said.

“There’s a lot of fear of robots, so maybe no matter what, as soon as a robot car fatality happens, that’s it,” he said. “But my hope is that it won’t. Hopefully, you’ll have thousands and thousands of hours of uneventful driving and you can point to the statistics that show we have enormously reduced fatalities.”