updated 03:16 pm EST, Tue February 12, 2013
Safety testing, insurance legalities biggest problems
Google's experimentation with driverless cars could become a commercial product within the next three to five years. Despite the optimism, the company faces stiff opposition from regulators and insurance companies before it can be put into production, with safety concerns and other legalities being the main stumbling points.
Anthony Levandowski, a product manager at Google working on the project, said the company hopes that the system's improvement on society could lead to "cars that drive safer than people do," to a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers, reports Bloomberg. The final form of the product itself has yet to be determined by Google, with it still being tested on roads.
The associate administrator for vehicle safety at the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Dan Smith, advised that the agency would need to create new standards for self driving cars, as well as a methodology for testing. The driving systems would have to work out what to do if a part of the car breaks while in transit, as well as common sense situations such as understanding that if a ball bounces into the path of a car, it is possible for a child to shortly follow.
Insurers would also have to work out how to deal with accidents involving self-driving cars. While premiums for a system would likely be discounted in the same manner as other car safety features, the liability of drivers is still up for debate. President of the Insurance Information Institute Robert Hartwig said that it is "a legal morass right now, and unfortunately it will take court decisions to work this out."