Ontario rang in the new year by beginning a 10-year, province-wide pilot program — or perhaps autopilot program would be more apt — to allow autonomous vehicle testing on public roads.
Companies such as Tesla Motors, Google and General Motors may be set to transform the industry, but are the public, insurance companies and lawmakers ready for autobots?
It's a work in progress, experts say.
"Law is notoriously slow to embrace any sort of new technology," said Anna Keller, a corporate technology lawyer with Low, Murchison, Radnoff LLP and a law professor at Ottawa's Carleton University, pointing to recent spats over ride service Uber and accommodation-sharing company Airbnb. Governments will need to grapple with privacy issues and economic impacts of automated vehicles.
The new rules in Ontario are just a start, she said.
The province requires companies in the program to carry $5 million in insurance, and test cars must have a human driver at the wheel ready to take over.
But some of the most aggressive proponents of autonomous vehicles, such as Tesla and Google, say that in four to five years autonomous cars will be driving on public roads by themselves.
A number of tests are under way already in other jurisdictions, including Tesla's "beta test" of its "Autopilot" driver-assisted software system, pushed out to Model S cars as a software update. Some videos posted by Tesla owners trying out the system evoke memories of the old "Knight Rider" TV series, while others seem more like a driving instructor warily supervising an erratic, cybernetic teen with a learner's permit.