California adopts rules for testing self-driving vehicles

There is no Easy Street on the route to self-driving vehicles. There are logistical and technological questions, liability issues, ethical concerns. The California DMV this week tried to answer some of those questions, approving new rules for manufacturers to follow when testing autonomous vehicles.

The manufacturers must have testing permits that need to be renewed every year, certify the operators of the vehicles, and have $5 million insurance or bond for injury and property damage.

This means “drivers” of the robot cars can’t just relax and enjoy the ride. They must have special training from the manufacturer before they can be certified.

“As automated systems get more complex, human understanding also gets more complex,” Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), told Ars Technica. “For a vehicle to suddenly swerve to the right, a human would have to grab [the steering wheel]… training becomes even more important, and it would also be important for general users.”

The new testing rules take effect Sept. 16. The DMV says it plans to release rules for public operation of self-driving vehicles by late December.

In other robocar news:

Our own Steve Johnson wrote this week that self-driving vehicles, which could be an $87 billion market by 2030, aren’t expected to be fully autonomous by then, according to Lux Research.

And Brandon Bailey wrote about his experience in a Google self-driving car — a Lexus, so not manufactured by Google — last week. Google’s Brian Torcellini told him the operators of the company’s self-driving vehicles undergo extensive training, including parking-lot tests where they’re taught how to take the wheel if needed. “We know that we are upholding the reputation of the technology and we take that with us every time we head out on the road,” Torcellini said.


Photo: A self-driving car at Google headquarters on Sept. 25, 2012 in Mountain View. (Getty Images archives)



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