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Never mind the mystery behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, things just got a whole lot weirder today when Google shared with the world a picture of a police officer, seemingly in California, pulling over one of its self-driving cars — for going too slow.
Now, I’m surprised that at just about this point in the picture the officer’s head didn’t implode. (OK, OK, there was probably a human in there somewhere.)
“Driving too slowly? Bet humans don’t get pulled over for that too often,” Google wrote in a posting on its self-driving car Google+ page. “We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25mph for safety reasons. We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets.”
“Like this officer, people sometimes flag us down when they want to know more about our project. After 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving (that’s the human equivalent of 90 years of driving experience), we’re proud to say we’ve never been ticketed!”
It’s also another fascinating example of how technology is racing ahead of regulations. Yes, Google’s cars are road-legal (at least along the roads they drive), but, in general, the laws around self-driving cars have a long way to go.
As Re/code pointed out, the California Department of Motor Vehicles still doesn’t have a law in place for what happens when a self-driving car is pulled over and all the seats inside are empty. Presumably, there was someone sitting in the front seat of Google’s car, though the picture doesn’t reveal anyone.
One question that came to my mind when I saw the picture was how the cars know to pull over when a police car hails them — assuming there’s no driver. Clearly that will have to be programmed in, if laws are eventually passed to allow vehicles on the road without a human passenger.
It would be interesting to know if Google’s self-driving cars can already respond to police sirens, lights, or other requests that they pull over. “I’m pretty sure the car can understand that cops and fire engines behave differently than regular cars, I’m just not sure if they’re capable of pulling over for them just yet,” Christopher Espejo commented on the Google+ posting.
But in a tongue-in-cheek comment that highlights just how absurd (and cool) this tech-driven world of ours is becoming, Ken Hiroshi Clark wrote, “The cop is actually a robot, created by Google. Photo taken by a drone, Google’s, as well.”
Before long, that scenario seems entirely possible.
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