People will be able to buy a self-driving car no earlier than 2020, Nissan executives have said, n but Google's self driving car has already logged approximately 500,000 miles on California roads, so could the tech giant beat that deadline?
Self-driving cars are definitely coming to the roads of the future, many lawmakers and auto market analysts agreed on Tuesday during a hearing of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, but it is unclear when they will be headed to a neighborhood dealership.
Self-driving vehicles could help make highways and fuel use more efficient and prevent accidents caused by intoxicated or fatigued drivers, said Rep. Tom Petri, R-W.I., chairman of the subcommittee. Approximately 33,561 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"These benefits can only be realized if federal and state authorities carefully prepare for their arrival and adopt policies that help autonomous vehicles assimilate into the transportation network," Petri said. "Liability and cyber security concerns are significant barriers to autonomous vehicle adoption. Who is at fault in a crash between a vehicle operated by a human and one operated by a computer system?"
Along with the legal questions related to those cars, human judgment calls still have the edge against computer technology for cars, said Carnegie Mellon University professor Raj Rajkumar.
"Only sometime in the 2020s will a fully autonomous system that does not require a human to be in the driver's seat become feasible," Rajkumar said.
Nissan targeted 2020 as the year self-driving cars will reach consumers, which Senior Manager of Technology Planning Andy Christensen said was still possible.
"The timeframe is challenging, but we believe achievable," Christensen said.
In August Nissan's Executive Vice President Andy Palmer said the company will build a proving ground for its autonomous vehicle systems by 2014, during the same presentation when he predicted the company will offer self-driving cars in 2020.
Google is even more ambitious, planning to perfect self-driving cars for consumers. The tech giant's self-driving car already makes traffic decisions using mapping software and lasers that sense the road. Google employees have used the self-driving car since California legalized autonomous cars on its roads in 2012, when Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin predicted self-driving vehicles will be available to "ordinary people" in less than five years.
"I expect self-driving cars are going to be far safer than human-driven cars," Brin said.
Google declined to comment for this article.
Safety questions about Google's car include how the lasers might bounce off watery surfaces and malfunction on a rainy day and how to account for a police officer coordinating traffic. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have considered laws related to self-driving vehicles since 2012.