AI News, Plate and Switch: Google’s Self-Driving Car Is a Transformer Too

Plate and Switch: Google’s Self-Driving Car Is a Transformer Too

“AU-001” is a historic license plate, the first one ever issued in the United States to an autonomous vehicle.

In May 2012, it was ceremoniously fixed to a self-driving 2009 Toyota Prius that Google developed, after the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approved the company’s application to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s public roads.

The plate has a gold infinity symbol on a red background, so it “will be easily recognized by the public and law enforcement,” according to then–department director Bruce Breslow.

The department awarded the license after a review of Google’s safety plans, employee training, system functions, and accident-reporting mechanisms, as well as two demonstration drives in Las Vegas and Carson City [see “How Google’s Autonomous Car Passed the First U.S. State Self-Driving Test”].

While Nevada’s self-driving test covers many of the same scenarios as in a human exam, such as city driving, highway driving, crosswalks, traffic lights, and roundabouts, it was designed to evaluate the underlying artificial intelligence of autonomous driving rather than specific vehicles, hardware, or versions of software.

Google did this again when it renewed its testing license in 2014, transferring the nation’s first “AU” license plates to three Lexus hybrids packed with new or upgraded sensors and software.

“It shows the disconnect between Google’s thinking about driverless cars and everyone else’s,” says Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who specializes in robotics and public policy.

“At this time, the department does not view the changes as justification for Google to provide another demonstration,” says Jude Hurin, the DMV manager who oversees experimental autonomous vehicles in the state.

However, given that the license-renewal process does not currently require Google to submit any technical data for new cars, it is unclear how Nevada would identify the vehicles it wanted to recertify in the first place.

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