It's a move that had been in the works for a while, but Governor Jerry Brown's signing of a bill permitting self-driving cars on public roads feels like an invitation to the future. Brown signed the bill at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. He road to the ceremony in a Toyota Prius that had been modified by the company as part of their ongoing experiments in the field of driverless vehicles.
Reuters reports that the bill will go into effect next year and establish safety and performance guidelines for the vehicles. A key provision in the bill requires an able operator to be in the driver's seat, ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary. That means no napping on the commute and no sending junior to school all by his lonesome.
Of course, the great promise of driverless cars is that the networked vehicles will eventually make driving safer and more efficient—both in terms of fuel use by optimizing performance on the fly and time by reducing congestion. The cars remain very much experimental, however, and it's hard to know how long they need to achieve these benefits.
"We're looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow's reality," Brown told the crowd. If cars are meant to be part of that reality—and certainly, they are—then advances like this represent huge opportunities for making the transportation infrastructure as efficient as possible.