Nevada Governor Takes Spin in Driverless Car

By SANDRA CHEREB | July 27, 2011

Gov. Brian Sandoval got behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius on Wednesday -and left the driving to a computer for a test drive through the capital and a scenic valley.

Sandoval became the first governor in the nation to test drive the robot-car technology Google Inc. is testing in Nevada.

“All of it is amazing,” Sandoval said after the gas-electric hybrid – with a spinning gizmo on its roof – pulled into a parking space in front of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. “It’s another compliment to American engineering.”

The gizmo is a laser range finder. The cars are also equipped with radar, sensors and computers that allow the vehicles to drive themselves.

Nevada lawmakers approved a bill this year allowing the cars on Nevada roadways. Another bill exempts operators of robotic vehicles from a texting-while-driving ban that takes effect Jan. 1.

“I think it’s important for Nevada to be first on this,” Sandoval said. “This is going to be part of the future, and Nevada has always been a very progressive state.”

Sandoval, with Google engineer Chris Urmson riding shotgun and DMV Director Bruce Breslow in the back seat, drove from the DMV offices to the middle of Washoe Valley about 10 miles north before turning around.

The governor took manual control of the car for a while but was amazed at its maneuverings while on autopilot.

“It accounts for all the safety issues,” Sandoval said. “It even tells you when a crosswalk is coming up.”

The technology is not yet available commercially, and the DMV is in the process of developing regulations for licensing the cars, said DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs, who got to take a spin in the driverless auto earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, Google officials, who did not want to speak with reporters, have been mapping the state’s roadways.

If the car enters an area that hasn’t been mapped, Jacobs said a female voice will tell the operator, “Please drive.”

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