The Department of Motor Vehicles in the state of California has announced new protocol to enable the testing of “autonomous vehicles.” California has also approved a new collection of rules that are estimated to allow the public use of driverless cars as early as January 1, 2015. Currently, the only autonomous vehicles that are available publicly are shuttles for pedestrian districts that drive no more than 12.5 miles per hour. The autonomous vehicles utilize radar, lidar, GPS and computer vision to analyze their surroundings. A wide array of car manufacturers and major companies have developed working autonomous cars, including General Motors, Continental Automotive Systems, Bosch, Nissan, Audi, Volvo, Vislab, Oxford University, Google, Toyota, Autoliv Inc., and Mercedes-Benz. The most successful implementation of driverless cars was in 2010, when two autonomous vans navigated 8,000 miles from Italy to China.
California set the official date for the legalization and approval for testing driverless cars in September 16. The regulations are set to be more lenient than other states which have allowed testing for the automatic vehicles. Nevada allows for similar testing, however, only for vehicles licensed in the state. California will allow the experimentation of self-driving cars registered in other states. The vehicles will have to pass a specialized driving course to familiarize drivers with the system, and teach them to remain attentive and always be prepared to regain control of the car. The licensees will only be provided to companies, such as Google, to test autonomous cars and not the public. The terms for license acquisition require a large insurance policy (at least $5,000,000), and for a driver to always be present in the vehicle. The DMV also stated that test drivers must have been a licensed driver for three years, have no more than one point on their license, and have an accident-free record.
Manufacturers for driverless cars expressed their joy at the news of the approval for testing in California. They have cited a considerable amount of significant potential benefits of the futuristic vehicles. The computer system is cited to be more reliable and responsive compared to human drivers, which means fewer traffic collisions, less traffic, increased road capacity due to the elimination of “safety gaps,” and the potential for a higher speed limit. The removal of constraints for vehicle operators is another proposed benefit; as drivers can be sick, underage, elderly, blind, intoxicated, etc. and the vehicle will operate normally. Parking issues would be alleviated due to driverless cars being able to drop off passengers, park far away and return when needed. Overnight travel will allow users to sleep while the car drives. The vehicle will, potentially, be able to drive off on its own for maintenance or repair or any other activity where a passenger is unneeded or redundant.
Obstacles have been highlighted by tech analysts who state that there is a danger for the computer in the vehicle to become compromised. Also, the skill of humans’ ability to drive could weaken. They have also illuminated that if the driverless cars become popularized, driving jobs (taxis, trucks) will be severely decimated.
By Andres Loubriel