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Google has been working for years on a self-driving car, testing it on the streets of California and constantly updating the hardware and software to truly make a reliable virtual driver more than mere science-fiction, but actual science-fact. A new report today suggests that we may be closer to that science-fact than we previously thought – about six years closer.

A post on the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is chatting up major automakers in an effort to figure out the best way to bring the self-driving automobile system to commercial avenues. The report cites the project’s director, Chris Urmson, who says that the system is about six years from being ready for an actual rollout.

“We are thinking now about how to bring this car to market,” Urmson is quoted as saying. Additionally, Google is debating whether or not to make its own self-driving car or to simply license the tech out to carmakers – sort of like the difference between the Nexus line of devices versus licensing out Android to other OEMs.

“We’re trying to figure that out now,” added Urmson.

Currently only four states legally allow driverless cars: California, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida. But how long until some states actually legally prohibit them?

When we last heard from Google’s self-driving car project, we’d learned that the system had tackled city streets and performed admirably. But, of course, a working system is only one component in making self-driving cars an actual facet of daily life. As the technology grows in maturity and the possibility of widespread adoption becomes a realistic possibility, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine each of the states passing its own set of legislation to make a driverless car landscape much more difficult to traverse in a legal sense.

Currently, four out of the fifty states have made it legal for autonomous cars to drive – Californial, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida – though Urmson says in the WSJ post that the car has been tested in locations including Arizona, Texas, and Washington, D.C. That’s because no legislation seems to have been passed to prohibit those kinds of vehicles.

But this is America, and if one thing is a constant, it’s that you can never tell how each state or region will react to changes, meaning that there may come a day when some states actually pass legislation to make driverless cars illegal. Moreover, the federal government may weigh in before then as well, making things yet more complicated.

All in all, Google’s autonomous auto may be six years away from a practical existence on America’s roads and highways. The real question, however, is how long it’ll take for America to be ready as well.

[Source: Wall Street Journal]


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