A look at California’s plan to make self-driving cars public

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California DMV Puts Brakes on Self-Driving Car Technology.

On Wednesday, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles unveiled draft regulations that would govern how consumers get access to self-driving cars — once they are ready for the public to use them safely. SAN FRANCISCO – California motor vehicle department officials on Wednesday proposed self-driving car regulations that included mandating that a licensed driver be available and able to take the wheel if needed.The agency published draft regulations on Wednesday for how manufacturers can move from testing self-driving car technologies to start making vehicles available to customers.

SAN FRANCISCO — Google says it’s “gravely disappointed” by proposed rules from California regulators that would restrict the use of driverless cars and would ban them from traveling on public roads in the state without a licensed human driver aboard. What follows is a look at the main provisions, some of which will be the subject of concerted lobbying by automakers and tech giant Google, before the agency finalizes them.

An autonomous car being developed by Google — seen Feb 2 2015 with US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx — would be barred from California roads under draft rules proposed Dec 16 because a driver can’t assume control of the vehicle. Silicon Valley is where much of the research into autonomous vehicles is taking place, while many automakers have their design shops in the Los Angeles area. Google, which is pushing to get cars without a steering wheel or pedals to consumers, expressed “grave disappointment” with the rules, which the tech giant said would slow deployment of technology with huge life-saving potential.

California rules-of-the-road for self-driving cars would have the potential to set precedent, and the proposed regulations were seen as sure to slow down the speed with which the technology would go mainstream. “The primary focus of the deployment regulations is the safety of autonomous vehicles and the safety of the public who will share the road with these vehicles,” DMV director Jean Shiomoto said in a release. The idea is for this regulatory framework to stay in place from current prototype tests through a transition to broader consumer use, since companies like Google and Tesla are promising customer-ready models within a few years. The handful of prototypes currently logging test miles in Mountain View, Calif., and Austin, Texas, have temporary wheels and pedals. “In developing vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button, we’re hoping to transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94% of accidents caused by human error or bringing everyday destinations within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu said in an emailed statement. “Safety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this. The draft calls for manufacturers to offer customers supplemental training courses that award certificates of completion and are recorded on individuals’ driver’s licenses. “The draft regulations establish financial responsibility, vehicle performance, vehicle equipment, and vehicle registration requirements.

We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here,” he wrote. Instead of being sold, self-driving cars could be leased for “approved deployment periods,” with performance and safety data regularly reported to the department. Ford Motor Co officials said Wednesday that they would closely examine the DMV draft regulations to see if they run counter to Ford’s autonomous vehicles under development.

A licensed operator must be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control at all times if the technology fails or there is another emergency. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker said it has a California autonomous vehicle driving permit to test its fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan on California streets in 2016. There are no comprehensive federal rules addressing the technology, and as the largest auto market in the U.S., rules in California are a landmark in the development of self-driving technology.

While autonomous cars are seen as the ultimate iteration of a passenger-only transportation future, the biggest leaps are currently being made in the driver-assist arena. Google has been testing self-driving cars on California roads for a while, and an array of automobile makers including Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, Tesla and BMW are working on building self-driving capabilities into vehicles.

Under California’s framework, manufacturers would receive a permit for three years, during which time consumers could lease the cars but manufacturers would be required to keep tabs on how safely they are driving and report that performance to the state. Companies such as Ford, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and others are quickly adding safety-focused features to even moderately prices vehicles that leverage tech in order to promote safety.

Google also announced Wednesday that it will separate its driverless car division, which will offer rides-for-hire, in 2016 under parent company Alphabet. A strict interpretation of the rules would prevent companies working on driverless self-parking features like Tesla Motors TSLA 6.11% and Mercedes-Benz from deploying its technology. Though the timeline for public access is squishy, in principle the DMV could finalize the rules and a manufacturer could satisfy the safety requirements as early as 2017. “This points to a very long slog ahead for not just Google, but really other automakers as well,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies self-driving car regulation.

Google’s driverless cars are part of Alphabet’s secretive X division that experiments with new technologies, and first starting testing six years ago. It could also force Google—and any other company working on the same technology—to test fully autonomous vehicles in other states like Texas or Nevada. The project may be spun out into their own division of Alphabet, the holding company formed earlier this year to keep Google’s search and advertising businesses separate from other more speculative efforts. Tesla issued a statement saying it’s “reviewing the draft and will continue to work with officials to ensure that any necessary new regulations support continued innovation in new beneficial technologies.” Manufacturers must certify that their autonomous vehicles comply with specific vehicle safety and performance requirements, including functional safety and behavioral competency. After all, cars that can safely drive themselves under all conditions wouldn’t rely on drivers who may be drowsy, distracted, buzzed — or unable to drive because of their age or a disability.

Driverless car technology and regulatory issues are sure to be on the front burner at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, where an increasing amount of convention hall space is being dedicated to the computerized automobile. A third-party testing organization must verify the vehicle can perform key driving maneuvers that are typically encountered in real-world driving conditions.

As a condition of this provisional permit, autonomous vehicles can only be operated by the manufacturer or made available to the public on no more than a leased basis. Manufacturers must also report accidents that occurred while the vehicle was in autonomous mode and any safety-related defects in their autonomous technology. [Google already shares an accident and progress report with the public every month.] The rules also place restrictions on how manufacturers collect data from self-driving cars.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers industry group was not publicly critical, perhaps because traditional automakers the group represents are phasing in features such as automatic braking and cruise control that adjusts to the speed of other vehicles — instead of jumping to a car that drives itself, as Google envisions. Manufacturers not only have to provide consumers written disclosure of any information collected by the autonomous technology that isn’t related to safety, they also will have to obtain written approval to gather this data.

The DMV “did exactly what they should do, which is put the public safety first,” said John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog and frequent Google critic.

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