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The driverless car visits Austin

Anyone there get to see it?

Google, which has been developing and touting the future of self-piloting cars, has parked a driverless car in front of the Hilton Hotel downtown, site of the three-day Texas Transportation Forum. The modified Lexus hybrid is equipped with all manner of sensors that allow it to be aware of everything occurring around it and instantly react to those obstacles. The most noticeable of those features is a rotating laser radar device, mounted on a frame on the car’s roof, that generates a detailed three-dimensional map of its environment.

[…]

The American-Statesman has learned that Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton will give the car a test spin at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Anthony Levandowski, a Google project manager who has worked on the driverless car project, is scheduled to appear Tuesday morning as part of a panel on “How technology is reshaping your transportation options.” Google, while it has been working on the device for several years and lobbying for it to be allowed on public streets for testing, has not announced any plans to commercialize the vehicle.

That was from Tuesday. Dallas Transportation, from whom I got the embedded photo, has more including a video. Though Google has successfully lobbied three other states so far to allow their driverless car on the roads there, as of last report there wasn’t a serious effort in Texas to push for an amendment to our laws. Not yet, anyway. The Trib examines that state of affairs.

Google did not seek permission from any local or state agencies before driving its experimental vehicle on Texas roads and highways alongside thousands of other vehicles, the company confirmed. Any other company testing self-driving technology in Texas wouldn’t need to either. Neither Austin nor Texas laws appear to address self-driving technology.

“I don’t think legally there’s any issues of a self-driving car or specific ordinance against a self-driving car,” said Leah Fillion, a spokeswoman for Austin’s transportation department. “It’s kind of a fuzzy area.”

Anthony Levandowski, project manager for Google’s self-driving car research, said the company brought a Lexus hybrid outfitted with its autopilot technology to the Texas Transportation Forum to get elected officials and members of the transportation industry more familiar with the emerging technology.

During a panel discussion Tuesday, Levandowski said the company hoped to have the software on the market within five years.

[…]

Though no Texas or federal laws address such technology being used on the roads, Levandowski said that would and should change.

“We do think it would be great to have the existing transportation code clearly address this technology,” Levandowski said.

The state’s transportation code currently refers only to “a person” operating a vehicle. Levandowski described an updated version as specifying “for a vehicle to operate, it must have a licensed driver inside.”

[…]

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said he had not considered the issue of self-driving vehicles but that it’s probably something state lawmakers should look at more closely.

“It’s worth a discussion because government is usually reactive instead of proactive,” Pickett said. “The first time [a self-driving car] runs over a fire hydrant or, even worse, a person, there will be a flurry of bills filed.”

If that’s the case, and if Levandowski’s five-year prediction is accurate, we have two, maybe three more legislative sessions after this one to get ready and be proactive. Better start studying up, y’all. Did any of my Austin readers have a chance to see this? Leave a comment if so and let us know. More from Dallas Transportation here.

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3 Comments

  1. Jeb says:

    I didn’t see it myself. Mayor Leffingwell got to ride in it though, and was pretty enthusiastic about it. As was one of the executives of Austin’s cab company that I spoke to at length about this.

  2. Katy Anders says:

    Cool.

    Driverless cars: Making open container laws irrelevant since 2013!

  3. […] here for some background. I think Rep. Capriglione has the right approach here in not requiring someone […]

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