California regulates autonomous vehicle testing
California has joined much of Europe as well as Nevada, Florida and Michigan in setting rules for how, when and where autonomous vehicle tests can take place.
The Californian Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has released guidelines for autonomous testing that will take effect on September 16, 2014. These rules don’t cover consumer operation of self-driving cars but instead outline an extensive list of criteria that must be met by manufacturers before a computer controlled test car can be let loose on the general public.
Manufacturers are required to prove their cars have successfully been tested in a controlled environment, and a trained "test driver" has to be ready to take control during the trial run. Sensibly, they’re also forced to report any accident involving a test vehicle, as well as any instances where the "driver" needs to take control.
Testing permits will last one year, and will only set you back US$150. The real cost lies in insurance: namely the $5 million policy you’ll need to even be considered for a permit.
Companies like Google and Volvo, who are at the forefront of development in this area, have already clocked-up many 1000's of miles of on-road testing and you could be sitting back and letting the car drive you sooner than you think. When that day does arrive, the regulators in California will be ready – the DMV says that rules governing consumer operation of autonomous vehicle are due for release in January 2015.
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I cannot see this system working in the real world. A human will know when it is essential to do something dangerous because the only other option is deadly, such as avoiding a falling tree, etc., etc., etc., ... etc., etc., etc.... Mind you, it would be interesting to see how they have programmed the computer to respond to one of its cameras shouting WTF?!
Of course, the most sensible option is to make the system warn the human driver when they are moving into danger and guide them accordingly, BUT leave the human in control.
Honestly, who is going to use this system anyway? Passenger aircraft very much fly themselves these days, but you will never catch me boarding one that doesn't have a human pilot on board and at the controls. I have the same attitude to these cars, only more so.
In regards to future autonomous vehicles, safety will become critically important. The question will arise as to whether vehicle manufacturers are capable of mass producing autonomous vehicles that are safe. Its not that autonomous vehicles will not be safe, but the companies that have currently put them on the road tend to be consumer conscientious. This is the reason that the Google car has been essentially crash free after several hundred thousand miles. Volvo and Infinity are respected high quality vehicles. But they are expensive. Based upon the track record of the auto manufacturers in rapidly correcting safety defects, I personally have my reservations. I would feel better if individuals charged with building safe vehicles could be held criminally responsible if they knowingly build unsafe vehicles. Unless forced to by the government I don't expect the safety of the driving consumer to be in the top 10 concerns of any manufacturer. A great saying when it comes to purchasing anything... Caveat Emptor