California opens road to public use of autonomous cars

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California regulators have unveiled a roadmap that would let consumers begin using self-driving cars, though manufacturers would have to prove the emerging technology is safe before a licensed driver could get chauffeured around town. Google has spoken of its disappointment over new proposed Californian state rulings declaring a human must be present inside a driverless car at all times while driving.California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has 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.Google plans to make its self-driving cars unit, which will offer rides for hire, a stand-alone business under its parent company Alphabet Inc next year, Bloomberg reported.

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. The service could be launched in San Francisco and Austin, Texas locations, where it has tested the cars extensively, Bloomberg said, citing a person briefed on the company’s strategy. 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. While the regulations are not yet enforced, the news throws a spanner in the works of Google’s fully autonomous cars programme, which it’s been working on since 2009, testing the vehicles in and across the state since 2012. “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.” “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 per cent 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.

Alphabet’s businesses include connected home products maker Nest, venture capital arm Google Ventures, and Google X, the secretive research arm which houses the self-driving car unit. Alphabet’s pet project of driverless cars started in 2009 and it along with other automakers have said the technology to build self-driving cars should be ready by 2020.

We want to get public input on these draft regulations before we initiate the formal regulatory rule making process.” Self-driving cars will also be required to detect, self-diagnose and respond to cyber attacks and other unauthorised intrusions, allowing the human driver to take control, the ruling stated. “Driverless cars certainly capture the imagination but, as is so often the case, perception and reality are vastly misaligned,” said French Caldwell, senior executive at MetricStream. “People see Google’s driverless car and think ‘that’s the future,” but really it’s a test vehicle, one that won’t roll off the assembly line any time soon. We should be talking about evolution, not revolution, and the conversation needs to shift from driverless car models to driverless car features, because that’s what we’re seeing today.” Last week the Telegraph revealed how Google has held multiple discussions with the British government about the prospects for driverless cars in the UK.

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. Google-owned online mapping company Waze in July launched a carpooling pilot programme called RideWith in Israel where commuters pay fellow drivers a small fee for a ride. For the first three years of its deployment, manufacturers would need to collect safety and performance information and report that data monthly to the agency. 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. He added: “California’s proposed rules are fantastic news for Texas.” Austin’s mayoral spokesman Jason Stanford said his city’s government already believes self-driving cars are “legal and safe” and is “thrilled to host innovative ideas like this.” California’s DMV has said it wanted regulations to protect public safety, but not be so onerous that they would stifle development of a technology that could prove safer than human drivers.

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. 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. 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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