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November 20, 2012

Google's Self Driving Car Concept Puts on the Accelerator with New Hire

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

Self-driving cars, at this point, are really only a matter of time away from actually being in use on roads. Most of the technological hurdles have been taken care of, and public acceptance has been on the rise for some time. The remaining problem seems to be the legal response, and even that is starting to fall in some places. But Google (News - Alert) wants to put the proverbial pedal to the equally proverbial metal, and has just hired National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSHA) deputy director Ron Medford to help Google get around the cones that is government.

Medford's new stint at Google, reportedly, came on the heels of the NTSHA developing a program to "regulate and set performance standards for autonomous vehicles" over the course of the next several years. Moreover, the NTSHA's David Strickland also announced a two to three year research project in which autonomous vehicle regulation would be established over a period of the next several years.

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Medford, meanwhile, left just one week after the program had begun its development, so chances are, Medford has plenty of valuable information about what the government will want to see in autonomous cars, and also have plenty of information to feed the no doubt numerous lobbyists Google has available to influence the legislation accordingly.

It was definitely a smart move for Google to pick up Medford--access to that kind of information is worth its weight in paychecks, though just how much of it Medford will be able to pass on is unclear--and they'll likely get plenty of use out of Medford's knowledge and contacts in the agency.

But there were already some signs that the government was beginning to relent any negative stance it had toward driverless cars in the first place--just under two months ago, California's Jerry Brown signed laws to allow them on streets by 2015--so just how far Google will be able to get with that insider is somewhat unclear. Of course, California isn't the nation, and Medford was working on a federal level, so Medford's access will likely have some weight to it.

Still, with more driverless cars in production, costs will come down, and users will eagerly get behind the wheel of a car they only occasionally have to pay attention to. With safer driving--yes, the autonomous cars will likely have some equipment failures, but they'll likely be lower in number than the current operator failure rate--and more convenient access to most anywhere a user would want to go on hand, driverless cars will not only make sense, but be welcome.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman
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