Yesterday California’s DMV published a revised set of draft regulations to govern the testing of driverless cars–or autonomous vehicles if you prefer. This set of regulations allows something the previous set did not: the testing of cars without a driver inside. The draft regulations face a period of public comment before becoming final.
Google’s self-driving car division has formed a coalition with automakers and ride-share companies to push the federal government to adopt a uniform set of laws governing autonomous vehicles. The group includes Google, Lyft, Uber, Ford and Volvo. David Strickland, the Coalition’s counsel and spokesperson, said, “The best path for this innovation is to have one clear set of federal standards, and the Coalition will work with policymakers to find the right solutions that will facilitate the deployment of self-driving vehicles.”
Instead of waiting for new regulations that will make way for self-driving cars on US roads, Google wants the government to create a new Federal-level authority that could review the company’s self-driving cars and give it special permissions for deployment. Google’s self-driving car, which is designed without pedals or a steering wheel, has had difficulties with current safety regulations that dictate a vehicle must allow a person to actually drive the car and have manual controls.
Reuters is reporting that U.S. regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have concluded that the artificial intelligence behind autonomous vehicles may be considered a “driver” for purposes of United States law. In a letter to Google from NHTSA’s Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh advised, “NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants.” The decision is seen as a major step forward in clearing regulatory hurdles associated with the century-old model based on human drivers. If the car’s computer is the driver for legal purposes, then it clears the way for Google or automakers to design vehicle systems that communicate directly with the vehicle’s artificial pilot. Google told NHTSA that the real danger is having auto safety features that could tempt humans to try to take control.
Yesterday the Obama administration proposed spending almost $4 billion to speed the development of autonomous vehicles. The proposal, which requires Congressional approval, would fund regulatory efforts to have officials work with automakers to come up with rules and policies necessary to make driverless cars work. Automakers frequently cite the lack of guidance from the government as one of the chief barriers to their autonomous vehicle projects. “Automated vehicles open up opportunities for saving time, saving lives and saving fuel,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Thursday at the North American International Auto Show, an annual auto industry get together in Detroit.
Driverless cars must deal with motorists, and it’s proving more difficult than expected. The New York Times reported this week one surprising problem encountered by Google’s autonomous vehicle project: the difficulty of interacting with human drivers. Apparently the computerized cars are not completely prepared for drivers who break the rules. One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn’t get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google’s robot.