The timing is coincidental, as Google filed for the patent in 2014, but the coincidence is superficial, because the patented technology enables a self-driving vehicle to enter a more cautious state when it detects school-bus yellow — and the bus involved in the collision last month wasn’t a school bus. Google reported running thousands of tests since the incident to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
As the technology creeps closer to the commercial market, legislators hash out the rules. There are 53 laws spread across 23 states that govern self-driving vehicles, but some of them contradict. For this reason, Google’s self-driving car chief, Chris Urmson, recently asked a Senate committee to give federal authority via U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
"If every state is left to go its own way, it would be extremely impractical to operate an autonomous vehicle across state boundaries,” Urmson said at the hearing.
And while the legislative environment prepares, some scientists report that the technology is not even close to being ready. Mary Louise (Missy) Cummings, director of Duke University's robotics program, reported to the Senate that there is a wide range of practical concerns technologists must face before self-driving vehicles can safely navigate the road.
"I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver's seat," she said at the hearing.
Among the problems cited were a potential for malicious remote control of self-driving vehicles, an inability of the vehicles to navigate properly in inclement weather, and an inability to obey the directions of a traffic officer.