During a meeting between the Senate Commerce Committee and the head honchos of the self-driving car industry on Tuesday, one potential roadblock to a driverless future was discussed most of all: hackers.
"Imagine what would happen to autonomous vehicles to get hacked while they're out on the road -- one small defect could end up in a massive safety crisis," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
In response, Google pointed to the company's long history of successfully dealing with hackers as a way to calm fears in Congress.
"We have hundreds of people dedicated to cybersecurity," said Chris Urmson, the lead engineer in charge of Google's self-driving car program, "and what we've learned through that is it's a very dynamic space and it's important to be able to adapt."
The main point of contention during the meeting was whether government should be in charge of setting minimal safety standards in the self-driving car industry, particularly with regard to the threat of hackers. While Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he didn't want government getting in the way of innovation, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) saw it differently.
Said Markey: "Clearly hackers are going to have the ability to break into these vehicles, and so the kinds of protections you build in can be voluntary - but if 10 companies do it and 10 don't, then those 10 are going to be identified by the hackers as the ones they're going to be playing games with out on the highways."
"And I just think we need minimal standards that every company is going to meet."
If you're counting down the days to when streets are filled with autonomous vehicles, perhaps the best news that came out of this meeting was the fact that there was little to no negative reaction by members of Congress to the recent accident involving a Google self-driving car and a bus.
Image: Michael Shick