Google ‘disappointed’ by proposed restrictions on driverless cars

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California D.M.V. Stops Short of Fully Embracing Driverless Cars.

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. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday issued a draft of potential regulations for putting regular people behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles. FILE – In this May 13, 2015, file photo, Google’s new self-driving prototype car is presented during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. A spokesman for Austin Mayor Steve Adler says the city is “thrilled” to host to such innovations and says local leaders believe self-driving vehicles are safe. The current draft rules appear to be a barrier to companies interested in offering fleets of fully autonomous vehicles as a ride service in the state. “We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars,” Google said in a statement. “Safety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this.” The rules should be less of a concern for companies pursuing a more incremental approach to the technology.

Company spokesman Johnny Luu says Google, which has led development of the technology, is “gravely disappointed” by the rules, which will limit Google’s ability to deploy the cars as quickly as it would like. Though no manufacturer has said it thinks the cars are ready just yet, at least a dozen are developing the technology, and the most aggressive suggest a model could be ready within a few years.

Silicon Valley giant Google has pushed hardest, already building a prototype without a wheel or pedals but rigging the hardware back into the cars pending the long-anticipated regulations. The rules apply to a specific slice of autonomous driving — more advanced than Tesla’s autopilot system — but less sophisticated than the Google car that has neither a steering wheel nor pedals. Manufacturers would also have to regularly report accidents, come up with security measures to prevent hackers from taking over cars, and tell passengers what kind of data, beyond whatever information is needed to safely run the car, the companies are collecting about them. States including Texas, Nevada and Michigan have courted testing on their roads but not weighed in on consumer use of the cars in detail as California did Wednesday.

He says the technology hasn’t been proven safe and it makes good sense to require a driver at the ready, as well as other safety certifications from manufacturers and an independent tester. Initially, 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. The DMV suggests that a third-party organization test the vehicles to verify manufacturer claims that its vehicles meet safety and performance requirements. The DMV had the experience of testing whether humans are capable of driving safely enough, but it lacks experience in determining that a robot can drive safely.

Google’s autonomous vehicle effort is part of the X division of Alphabet, a holding company formed in August to separate Google’s search and advertising businesses from more speculative projects. The operator of the vehicle will also be responsible for any traffic violations. “The technology is developing, and what we think is necessary for safety in December of 2015 may not be the same thing that we think is necessary for safety in December of 2017,” said Brian Soublet, deputy director of the California DMV. “As we have greater assurances that vehicles can do more in a safe manner, this is probably a process that’s going to be changing over the next few years.” The draft rules also stress privacy, requiring manufacturers to disclose any information collected by the vehicles that is not necessary for safe operation of the vehicle.

The DMV said it wanted regulations to protect public safety, but not be too onerous so that signature companies such as Google will be stifled in developing 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. Autonomous vehicles could be a data gold mine, giving companies insights into the movements of individuals, which could be lucrative for personalizing advertisements or other services. The D.M.V.’s draft is basically a starting point for two workshops — one in Sacramento, another in Los Angeles — where regulators and manufacturers will talk about rules for allowing ordinary people to operate self-driving cars. The DMV says it wants public input on its draft regulations before starting the formal rule-making process and will hold a workshop in January and one in February.

Given the nature of the rule-making process it appears likely to drag on for some time, which should frustrate companies pushing to roll out autonomous technology. The first milestone was last September, when the D.M.V. introduced a series of guidelines that allowed companies like Google and others to start testing self-driving cars on California roads. The road to Wednesday’s regulations began several years ago, when Google approached a California legislator about getting formal approval for testing that the company already was doing on California freeways.

Department of Transportation signaled that it was reviewing its own guidance on self-driving cars with an eye toward getting them into broad public circulation. Google believes the safest path is to take people out of the equation by having control limited to stop and go buttons, with the leader of Google’s project saying that humans are “the bug” in the driving task.

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