CEO of Bay Area blind center hails Google's driverless cars

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Two years ago, Google shot video of Steve Mahan as he became the first person outside the company to sit in the driver's seat of a self-driving car.

For Mahan, it was more than just a trip around town.

"The day that that video was shot," he said, "Literally that is the first time that I'd sat behind the wheel of a car in seven years."

Seven years ago is when Mahan became almost totally blind.

Now, as the CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, he's hailing the self-driving car as far more than a cool toy.

"It's a paradigm shift for transportation in general," he said. "But for those of us that have lost access to transportation, it's a life shift."

Fast food becomes fast again when you don't need someone to drive you.

"Surprised the manager on duty," Mahan said. "It's a Taco Bell that I routinely go in, and I go in there with a white cane."

Mahan points out that while many have envisioned a world built for automatic cars, Google envisions an autonomous car built for the world we live in today. That means it basically has to drive like a human would. Only hopefully a little better.

"The point of automatic cars is actually to eliminate car accidents," said CNET Senior Automotive Editor Wayne Cunningham. "Most car accidents are caused by drivers. Frankly by driver error."

Cunningham says Google's reinforced that intent -- announcing they've taught the cars to avoid more potential accident situations, specifically in cities.

"The sensors can now recognize a pedestrian or a bicyclist," he said. And they even say they can recognize a bicyclist making a hand signal, signaling the intention of where they're gonna go."

That big 3D laser scanner doesn't have to check its mirrors; it's looking everywhere all the time.

Car makers like Audi are working on their own, lower-profile solutions. And you can see pieces of them now.

"Adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, those kinds of things, those are steps toward autonomous," Cunningham said.

As for Mahan, that video earned him a little green statuette and a poster autographed by Google all-stars, like co-founder Sergey Brin.

But what he really wants -- one of the driverless cars.

"I'd love to be the first owner," Mahan said.

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