Starting Up, Letting Go

A car with no driver may be rolling past you soon. And that’s a good thing.

For decades, Nevada’s high-tech industry has lagged behind powerhouses such as California. In some cases, we’ve even discouraged tech companies that wanted to move here, such as Electronic Arts in the early 2000s. So it’s encouraging to finally see Nevada lawmakers actively welcoming emerging technologies.

Last June, Nevada passed the nation’s first law permitting driverless cars on its roads, and the law took effect March 1. At first, the impact will be small. We may see a few cars with red license plates driving around with “drivers” who are busy texting on their phones, but not much else. (Under current laws, all self-driving cars must have a passenger able to take control of the car at a moment’s notice if anything goes wrong. Nondriving passengers are permitted to text and talk on the phone, but they may not drink alcohol.) However, the technology could grow into an industry. And Nevada could put itself at the forefront.

What if a company built a facility to produce self-driving cars in Las Vegas? They could build near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where there’s plenty of vacant land. The new facility would benefit from the automotive talent already there. The new company could even work with the speedway by holding races between various self-driving cars. Races would vividly demonstrate the viability of self-driving cars to the public, and they’d be great PR for the new industry.

Of course, these races might be slightly less exciting than human races, since self-driving cars get into far fewer accidents. But in the beginning they’d draw crowds on novelty alone. Who knows? Maybe they’d spawn a whole new sport.

Maybe we’re stretching things—but innovation means letting yourself pluck some strange fruit off the idea tree every so often. It’s good to see Nevada welcoming innovative technologies. Between Internet poker, self-driving cars and all the tech startups migrating to downtown Las Vegas, the spirit of chance is alive and well in the Valley.