Nevada just passed a law that could let self-driving cars on the road as soon as March 1, 2012. The new legislation directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to "adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada."
According to the law, an "autonomous vehicle" is one that uses "artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator." The law asks the DMV to create a driver's license endorsement for such vehicles.
Self-driving cars have been tested by Google, and recently, by Volkswagen. The autonomous VW uses a "Temporary Autopilot" program that can control the car using a radar system, laser scanner and ultrasonic sensors to determine its position in relation to other cars, to slow down near curves in the road, and more.
While the law may seem like a whiff of the future, it doesn't necessarily mean we'll see cars careening around on their own anytime soon. Rather, the law asks that the DMV design regulations that will help determine how such cars can be approved and used.
Google has been a major proponent of the self-driving car, saying that it believes such vehicles could cut road accidents in half. The company has already tested out their automated cars on the streets of California, logging over 140,000 miles. And, according to The New York Times, Google has been lobbying in Nevada for the passage of this very law.
Steven Levy's book "In The Plex" describes how current Google CEO Larry Page once wanted to enter the stage at the CES tech conference in Las Vegas while sitting on the roof of a self-driving car named Stanley. He didn't get his wish then, but it looks like he might now.