Nevada has always been a state that marches to its own drummer, being the first state in the country to legalize gambling and the only state to have legalized prostitution. Now it can add to its roster of firsts that it is the first state to allow self-driving autonomous vehicles on its roadways. Self-driving cars use GPS, radar, lasers, cameras, as well as artificial intelligence to navigate--without the need of human intervention.
In just over a year since announcing it had been running live tests of self-driving vehicles on California roads, lobbying efforts by Google to push the initiative have paid off, and Nevada has become the first state to approve a driver’s license to operate (or not operate) autonomous vehicles. Nevada was chosen by Google because of its terrain, as well as for being pro-business, with its tax and regulatory benefits.
Nevada has some history with autonomous vehicles. Beginning in 2004, the DARPA Grand Challenge, a prize competition for driverless vehicles which attracted many top universities with robotics engineering programs, took place in parts of Nevada. In fact, Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science and director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford and the developer of the Google driverless vehicle that's been tested in California over the past year, was Team Leader of Stanford’s winning team in 2005 and took second place in the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007.
Advocates for autonomous vehicles claim that computer controlled vehicles will save gas, time and lives, taking out of the equation the negative consequences of people falling asleep, drinking and driving, or simply not paying attention. However, many opponents see legal problems down the road. Who is liable if an unmanned autonomous vehicle crashes? What happens if a child unexpectedly runs into the path of an autonomous vehicle? Another real concern stems from the recent news of hackers taking down supposedly secure computer networks of major corporations. What mayhem could be caused by computer hackers of autonomous vehicles? Time will tell whether "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
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