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Self-driving cars: Google and others map the road to automated vehicles

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Google and a number of automakers are spearheading the movement to get automated vehicles on America's roads. Self-driving cars are street legal in three states, and Google's fleet has collectively logged over 300,000 miles of time on the road. However, there are several obstacles in the path of widespread adoption, with legal and moral opposition to the concept coming from all corners. Follow this StoryStream to track the technology's progress as it transitions from experimental testing to consumer reality that could save thousands of lives.

49 updates and 3295 comments below.

Jun 23 1:00p

For $10,000, your car can drive itself

I've seen the abandoned airport runway in front of me a dozen times, but this is my first time actually being here. I'm in Alameda, a city right across the bay from San Francisco, at the same disused Navy runway where the popular TV show MythBusters often does incredibly dangerous things with cars. Semi trucks have collided here head-on, and passenger vehicles have smashed into concrete barriers or gone careening through the nearby chain link fence. Hopefully none of those things are about to...

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Jun 09 2:20p

Toyota is investigating cars that hover above the road

Toyota today said it's investigated the possibility of vehicles that are capable of hovering just above the road, technology designed to improve efficiency. In an interview at Bloomberg's Next Big Thing Summit in San Francisco, Hiroyoshi Yoshiki — the managing officer with Toyota's technical administration group — said that the company had been studying a similar idea of flying cars at one of its "most advanced" research and development areas, but cautioned that the concept was not like...

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May 28 9:26a

May 27 10:04p

Google made a self-driving car, and it doesn't have a steering wheel

Google today announced its own design for self-driving cars, which will drive people around without a steering wheel or pedals. It's the latest project from Google X, the company's skunkworks group headed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

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May 21 8:58a

California DMV adopts new rules for self-driving car tests

Starting in September, Google's self-driving cars will have a new set of rules to abide by. The California DMV has adopteded new guidelines for the testing of self-driving cars, requiring a trained driver in the driver's seat, ready to take the wheel at all times, along with a $5 million dollar insurance bond from the manufacturer. The state is also requiring that any accidents involving an accidental disengaging of the autopilot is immediately reported, providing an early warning of any...

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May 14 10:00a

I took a ride in Google's self-driving car

Autonomous vehicles are ready for the city Continue reading »

Jan 31 7:58p

US military, Lockheed deem driverless convoy test a success

The US Army, along with defense contractor Lockheed Martin say they've successfully tested an autonomous vehicle convoy system that does away with human drivers in the name of safety and speed. Lockheed ran the test in Fort Hood, Texas earlier this month, and says the driverless convoys successfully navigated all sorts of "hazards and obstacles" including pedestrians, other vehicles, and basic changes in road topography.

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Dec 03 8:18a

Volvo speeds ahead with autonomous cars on Swedish roads by 2017

If there's one name synonymous with safety and caution in the car world, it's Volvo. You might be surprised, therefore, to hear that the Swedish carmaker is taking the lead in putting self-driving cars on public roads, with a roadmap that's a few years more aggressive than its direct competitors. Volvo has this week announced a partnership with Swedish authorities to initiate a trial run of its self-driving cars in Gothenburg, which it is calling Drive Me. 100 cars will be distributed to...

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Nov 18 12:25p

The long road to Google's self-driving car

This week The New Yorker offers a rare look at the engineers leading Google's self-driving car project, focusing on engineer Anthony Levandowski's decades-long quest to master the subtle demands of vehicular automation. His obsession began with a series of ill-fated DARPA challenges (including more than a few crashed cars) to Google's current self-driving project, which has now logged more than half a million miles on the road.

For Levandowski, the quest has a particularly personal charge:...

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Sep 17 11:11p

Elon Musk says Tesla's self-driving cars will still require a human driver

Elon Musk says that self-driving Teslas are on the way. In an interview with the Financial Times, Musk declared that his electric car company, Tesla, is officially in the race to bring autonomous vehicles onto the streets — a race that AudiMercedesNissanVolvo, General Motors, and Google are already in. The CEO tells the FT that he believes autonomous Teslas will be able to operate largely, but not completely, on their own. "We should be able to do 90 percent of miles driven within three...

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Sep 16 3:45p

Tesla is looking for engineers to develop self-driving cars

Tesla Motors is getting serious about building self-driving cars. The electric automaker has posted a job opening for an Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Controls Engineer that will help the company develop technology for fully autonomous vehicles. The listing says the engineer "will be responsible for developing vehicle-level decision-making and lateral and longitudinal control strategies for Tesla's effort to pioneer fully automated driving." Tesla wants this engineer to not only develop...

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Sep 04 5:28p

Congressman hitches a ride in a stealthy self-driving Cadillac

Google's not the only entity testing self-driving cars on actual US roads. Today, Bill Schuster (R-PA), the congressman who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, took a 33-mile trip in an autonomous vehicle built by Carnegie Mellon University and funded by General Motors. The 2011 Cadillac SRX ferried the Pennsylvania congressman from the town of Cranberry to Pittsburgh International Airport earlier this morning, while a cameraman broadcast his journey to the web.

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Aug 28 1:07p

Self-driving cars and ocean colonies: revisit Isaac Asimov's vision of 2014

Isaac Asimov has detailed countless visions for what the future could look like, most with a clear label of "fiction" on them. But in 1964, while reflecting on that year's World's Fair, Asimov described in The New York Times what he believed the 2014 World's Fair would really look like. He predicted a world of advanced appliances, simple robots, and incredible ways of harnessing power, with a common theme being that "gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs."

Aug 27 1:28p

Nissan says it will bring multiple self-driving cars to market by 2020

Move over Google: automaker Nissan says it's aiming to have multiple self-driving cars on the market by 2020. The company made the ambitious announcement on Tuesday in a presentation to reporters, where it also revealed that it's not collaborating with Mountain View on the effort. Instead, Nissan is relying on its own engineers and a number of universities including Stanford, MIT, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo to help create its autonomous driving technology.

It's not...

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Aug 23 4:32p

Google is reportedly designing its own self-driving car

Self-driving taxis could become a reality. Google is reportedly now designing and developing its own self-driving car, instead of solely modifying existing vehicles as it's done up to this point, reports the recently departed Wall Street Journal writer Amir Efrati. Google's efforts to get its self-driving vehicle technology built into major automakers' cars have reportedly failed to bring about a partnership, and the company is now said to be interested in making a car of its own. Google is...

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Jul 16 9:53p

UK to test self-driving cars on public roads this year

Driverless cars will soon be rolling across the UK's public roadways, thanks to a government decision to permit tests by the end of 2013, reports BBC News. A report from the country’s Department of Transport gives a rundown of the plans, which it believes will lower congestion and improve safety — part of a £50 billion investment aimed at upgrading the country’s roads.

The UK is joining a handful of US states that are already testing driverless cars, including California (where they are...

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May 30 2:58p

NHTSA calls on states to legalize self-driving car testing

In California, self-driving cars are street legal. Florida, and Nevada allow for self-driving autos to be tested on their roads, and Michigan may soon join the club. But so far, the 46 other states in the US have steered clear of automated automobiles — something the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hopes to change. On Thursday, NHTSA released a policy report calling on states to draft legislation that allows for the testing of self-driving...

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May 07 11:07a

Elon Musk in talks with Google to bring driverless tech to Tesla cars (update)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has revealed he has been in talks with Google to bring driverless technology to its vehicles. According to Bloomberg, Musk sees autonomous driving becoming the next logical step in the evolution of cars, but believes Google's technology — which currently utilizes sensors over an optical system — is "too expensive," adding that Tesla is "not focused on autopilot right now [but] we will be in the future."

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Apr 16 9:37p

Michigan governor urges 'automotive capital of the world' to welcome self-driving cars

Self-driving cars may soon hit the roads of Michigan — home of US automakers Chrysler, Ford, and GM — as Governor Rick Snyder continues a push for his state to join California, Florida, and Nevada in allowing driverless vehicle testing. Snyder said yesterday that autonomous vehicles will eventually increase road capacity and improve driver safety throughout the state — but the governor is also looking to pit Detroit against Silicon Valley. Industry around autonomous driving technology has...

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Mar 13 5:40a

Hitachi's ROPITS is the self-driving go-kart of the future

Sick of walking around the parking lot to find your tiny single-person car, only to have to manually drive it to your destination like a slob? Hitachi has a self-driving solution, and for some reason, it decided to name it ROPITS. The company announced the research project in Japan this week, and while it’s still in development, it's already capable of driving itself to within a yard of some arbitrary point on a map. Just tell ROPITS ("Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System") where...

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Feb 18 11:20p

Nissan shifts self-driving car R&D to Silicon Valley

Nissan has opened a new advanced research center in Sunnyvale, California that will specialize in self-driving and connected cars. Speaking to Bloomberg, the company's senior vice president for North American R&D Carla Bailo said that the facility will have over 60 engineers and technicians in the next three years, and that the move from Japan to Silicon Valley is about shifting Nissan's work "to the heart of the industry." The company opened a Mountain View research office in 2011, but the...

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Feb 17 12:28a

Inexpensive alternative to Google's self-driving cars uses lasers and cameras to navigate

Oxford University has unveiled a new autonomous car system that takes a different approach to Google's self-driving vehicles. RobotCar UK uses front-mounted 3D laser scanners and cameras on the vehicle to compare the environment to stored map data; if the car feels confident in its ability to take the wheel, it will notify the driver via software running on a dashboard-mounted iPad. Currently the system runs on a modified Nissan Leaf and has been tested at up to 40mph.

"It's not total...

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Feb 11 10:06a

Google expects its self-driving cars to be ready in three to five years

Speaking at a Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) conference last week, product manager for autonomous driving Anthony Levandowski said that Google expects to release its self-driving car technology in the next three to five years. According to Bloomberg, however, Levandowski cautioned that "what form it gets released is still to be determined." Even if Google has its technology polished and road-ready in that time frame, it's highly unlikely that they'll be for sale due to a slew of...

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Jan 10 4:52p

At CES, self-driving cars dance with believers, skeptics, and governments

"Sensing what's around you versus understanding it [are] vastly different," said Lexus VP Mark Templin, waxing philosophical about the company's so-called advanced active safety research vehicle — "AASRV" for short — at a dimly-lit CES event early this week.

From the unapproachable, awkward name, you'd probably never guess that the AASRV is actually a self-driving car, every bit as autonomous, advanced, and buzzworthy as the ones Google has been driving around California for the past several...

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Jan 09 1:43a

The Batmobile is real: Audi's self-driving car picks you up on command

There are self-driving cars, then there are self-driving cars. Today at CES, Audi showed me the former.

The A7 parked in the cul-de-sac of Las Vegas' luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel looked no different than any other that you might see on the street, but this was a special demonstrator of Audi's "piloted driving" system for automated parking. It works like this: you walk out of the mall, you want your car. You open an app on your smartphone, press a button, and the car drives out to you....

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Jan 08 2:45p

Audi working on making self-driving cars look like normal cars

At CES 2013 today, Audi talked about its ambitions in autonomous driving. No dates or models were given for a production car that can pilot itself — that's still years away, even by ambitious estimates — but company executive Ricky Hudi mentioned that they're currently in the prototyping stages of a single circuitboard that contains all of the electronics that currently occupy the trunks of self-driving cars on the roads today (in fact, a Lexus spokesperson just mentioned to us yesterday that...

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2:33p

Toyota and Lexus show off autonomous — but not self-driving — car at CES

Self-driving cars have long been the pet project of Google, but mainstream automotive companies have started edging their automatic safety and assistance tools towards that end of the scale as well. At CES, Toyota and its subsidiary Lexus recently unveiled the "advanced active safety research vehicle," whose Aperture Science-worthy name belies its somewhat more modest short-term ambitions. Lexus insists it's not meant to replace the driver, acting instead as a co-pilot and a new step in...

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Jan 07 2:00p

Lexus's 'advanced active safety research vehicle' can drive itself, but don't call it a self-driving car

At CES today, Toyota's Lexus division just took the wraps off its "advanced active safety research vehicle," a car based on the company's luxury LS sedan that combines troves of gadgets and technology to effectively drive itself.

Jan 03 8:14p

Toyota to show off self-driving car at CES

Google and Volvo aren't the only companies interested in autonomous, self-driving cars. Toyota is promising to show off the Lexus AASRV (Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle) at the show. The car is part of a larger program, based in North America, which doesn't look to be as far along as Google's efforts. Toyota has retrofitted a Lexus LS 600h with radar, cameras, and possibly a laser system to help it recognize its surroundings, the Wall Street Journal points out, and Toyota has posted a...

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Dec 19 5:31p

German auto supplier receives automated car license from Nevada, following Google

Continental, a German auto supplier developing car automation technology, has just received a license to operate its "highly automated vehicle" from the state of Nevada. The company is the first to join Google, which has been working on a fully-automated vehicle in the state — in August, the company announced that it had logged over 300,000 miles on the road with its autonomous Toyota Prius and Lexus RX hybrid vehicles. But unlike Google's driverless car, Continental's modified Volkswagen...

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Dec 14 1:26p

Self-driving cars can navigate the road, but can they navigate the law?

Google’s lobbying hard for its self-driving technology, but some features may never be legal Continue reading »

Nov 24 2:45p

Auto designers imagine the self-driving cars and drones of future police work

Self-driving cars are barely on the road yet, but designers apparently think they'll be the future of police work. At the Los Angeles Car Show's annual design challenge, car companies were asked to envision the highway patrol vehicle of 2025. As The New York Times reports, several of the concepts were autonomous, designed either to be completely unmanned or to help officers monitor the area. BMW's E-Patrol "Human-Drone Pursuit Vehicle," for example, would include both "unicycle-like" robot...

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Nov 19 10:08a

Google hires NHTSA deputy director to oversee safety of self-driving cars

Ron Medford, deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is leaving the US government to join Google's ongoing project on self-driving cars. As the Detroit News reports, Medford will officially join Google in January, where he will serve as director of safety for driverless vehicles. The executive announced the decision in an email to NHTSA staff last week, describing the decision as "bittersweet" after more than 40 years of work in the public sector. A...

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Oct 23 11:15p

Self-driving cars hold 'great promise' for saving thousands of lives, says US government official

An Obama administration official has said that self-driving cars have the potential to save "thousands and thousands of lives." The AP reports that at an industry gathering David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, spoke of his optimism for the technology. The government is launching research into the safety of automatic driving, and has already spoken with automakers and Google about the path to consumer adoption.

Sep 29 4:19p

Re-thinking car design in the age of self-driving vehicles

As self-driving cars inch closer to real-world use, car makers have the opportunity to incorporate new design factors that aren't constrained by the requirements of manual control. Brad Templeton, software architect and board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has identified a number of attributes that can be unique to the new mode of transportation, from single-passenger cars and redesigned windshields to vehicles that re-fuel themselves between trips. Check out Templeton's...

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Sep 25 5:39p

Self-driving cars allowed on California roads under new law

Google's self-driving car initiative gained momentum in California today with the signing of a bill that permits the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads in the company's home state. Governor Jerry Brown joined Google co-founder Sergey Brin (complete with his signature Google Glass eyewear) on stage in Mountain View to celebrate the occasion. Bill SB1298, which cleared legislative hurdles last month, establishes a number of safety and legal standards that will allow Google to test...

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Aug 30 1:31p

California Assembly and Senate pass safety regulations for self-driving cars

A bill that would allow autonomous cars to be tested on California's roads easily passed the state's Assembly and Senate this week. The bill, which passed the Assembly on Tuesday with a vote of 74-2 and unanimously passed the Senate yesterday, will establish safety regulations for use of self-driving cars. However, autonomous cars will only be permitted for testing purposes and under the condition that the driver can manually take control of the vehicle. A provision to allow autonomous...

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Aug 13 7:36p

Florida political attack ad takes issue with self-driving vehicles

As a number of states move forward with plans to get self-driving vehicles on the road, in Florida the issue is being used for political attack ads. A new ad from the Committee to Protect Florida takes issue with Representative Jeff Brandes' support for autonomous vehicle testing in Florida, not-so-subtly implying that said vehicles are dangerous to pedestrians. Brandes is an advocate of autonomous cars in the state, supporting House Bill 1207, which would allow for the operation of...

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Aug 07 3:05p

Google's self-driving cars have logged more than 300,000 miles on the road

Google has just released a new update on its self-driving car initiative, and the company has made a good deal of progress on the road over the summer. So far, Google's fleet of self-driving cars (about a dozen of which are on the road at any one time) have now logged more than 300,000 miles of test drives without a single accident in a "wide variety of traffic conditions." That's up from the 200,000 miles Google reported back in late April. It's a significant milestone — many more miles than...

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Jul 06 12:54p

Japan aims for autonomous cars in the next 10 years

Science fiction has prepared us for a plethora of transportation methods to look forward to in the future, and while flying cars are still a ways off, the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism thinks that autonomous vehicles can hit the country's roads as early as the 2020s. The automobiles won't be completely self-driving but instead will have an "autopilot system" that engages when driven onto specially designed expressways reserved for similarly equipped...

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May 29 1:02a

Autonomous three-car caravan completes 125-mile public road test

Project SARTRE (or Safe Road Trains for the Environment) has successfully completed a 125 mile test involving three autonomous cars on public roadways in Spain. What differentiates SARTRE from Google's driverless car is that SARTRE consists of a caravan of autonomous vehicles with a leading car driven by a professional driver. Each vehicle behind the leader follows the one in front of it using a wireless network accompanied by a litany of cameras, radar sensors, and laser guidance systems...

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May 22 1:54a

California Senate passes safety requirements for self-driving cars

The California State Senate this week passed new legislation that would establish safety standards and regulations for self-driving cars. The bill, SB 1298, passed with a unanimous vote of 37-0, and will now make its way to the State Assembly, which is expected to issue its seal of approval within the next month.

Monday's announcement comes a few months after Nevada's legislature ratified its own set of regulations on autonomous cars, though California seems to be taking a more cautious...

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May 07 9:49p

Nevada DMV grants first self-driving car testing license to Google

Nevada has been making a name for itself lately, becoming the first state to put in place rules and regulations for autonomous vehicles last February. It's now moved on to the next step, approving the first testing license under the new rules, and it's going straight to Google. Under the new laws, the self-driving car will be fitted with a special red license plate featuring an infinity symbol for easy recognition. While this is an important step, we're still a long way off from an autonomous...

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May 02 10:56a

Easier-to-understand technology could keep elderly drivers on the road longer

Giving up driving can be a huge loss of independence for the elderly, but a team of researchers at Newcastle University is hoping to extend that freedom through technology. The team has outfitted a standard electric car with a number of monitoring tools — including an eye-tracking system and bio-monitors — in order to determine what elderly drivers might need in order to stay on the road a bit longer. One of the main problems, it turns out, is that current tech like GPS systems can be...

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Apr 27 5:49a

One in five drivers would spend $3,000 to add self-driving to their next car

Judging from what Google has been saying to automakers, self-driving cars are still millions of test miles away from actually making it to showrooms, but survey results indicate some American drivers are ready to pay for the technology today. A new survey from J.D. Power and Associates says that 20 percent of vehicle owners tested either "definitely would" or "probably would" spend $3,000 to add fully-autonomous self-driving technology to their next vehicle.

Predictably, there were...

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Apr 25 4:25p

Google discusses partnerships with carmakers for self driving system

Today we've seen what might just be the first baby steps towards getting self-driving cars into dealerships and onto the roads. The Wall Street Journal reports that Google was in Detroit today gauging interest in partnering with automobile manufacturers to get self-driving cars out of the labs and into consumers' hands. Let's not get ahead of ourselves — there's nothing to announce yet — but Google is certainly taking what started in 2010 seriously. The company say it's done over 200,000...

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Mar 29 1:01a

Google puts a blind man behind the wheel of its self-driving car (video)

Sometimes it feels all too easy to succumb to cynicism when looking at the cutthroat competition in the tech world, but a new video from Google that demonstrates its self-driving car is more than enough to lead one's heart back to the optimism inherent in human technology. In the video, Google employees pick up Steve Mahan, a man who's lost 95 percent of his vision, and put him behind the wheel — and from the moment the car starts up to a gentle robotic voice that announces "auto driving,"...

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Feb 17 5:27a

Nevada approves regulations for self-driving cars

Nevada is becoming the first US state to approve and regulate rules for self-driving cars on its roadways. Nevada's Legislative Commission approved regulations on Wednesday that will allow for the testing of autonomous vehicles, with a red license plate, on the streets of Las Vegas and other cities. Nevada state was originally lobbied by Google last year to introduce the regulations, although it's not clear why the search giant is throwing money at automated cars throughout Nevada instead of...

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Jan 23 4:47a

Building tomorrow's car today: the self-driving vehicle nears the mainstream

The notion of a self-driving car has been steadily foregrounded since Google's autonomous vehicles were noted by the New York Times in 2010. Wired's Tom Vanderbilt takes an extensive look at the technology as a logical extension of the features we already enjoy — and the potential it has to change the notions of driving and car ownership. Multiple manufacturers including BMW, Audi, and Toyota are all working on their own versions of computer-controlled driving systems, with Alan Taub, vice...

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