Google antsy as California slow on self-driving car rules

Google antsy as California slow on self-driving car rules
This Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, photo provided by Virginia Tech shows Greg Brown, technology development program administration specialist, sitting behind the wheel of a self-driving car during a test ride on a local street in Blacksburg, Va. The vehicle's alert system is handing over control to Brown as it disengages from self-driving mode. (Justin Fine/Virginia Tech via AP)

Hustling to bring cars that drive themselves to a road near you, Google finds itself somewhere that has frustrated many before: Waiting on the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The tech titan wants the freedom to give the public access to self-driving prototypes it has been testing on public roads since the summer. Before granting that permission, California regulators want Google to prove these cars of the future already drive as safely as people.

The Department of Motor Vehicles was supposed to write precedent-setting rules of the road by last Jan. 1. Nearly a year later, it is still struggling. After all, the agency is geared to administering driving tests and registering cars, not settling complicated questions the technology raises.

If the cars' advanced sensors and computing power can drive better than humans, do they need a steering wheel and pedals? Would a person even need to be inside? Google says no on both.

Regulators don't want to be blamed for unnecessarily stalling the arrival of robo-chauffeurs that can see farther, react faster and don't text, speed or fall asleep. They've implored Google and traditional automakers also developing the technology to share safety data, but companies in competition don't willingly reveal trade secrets.

Delay is not what Google had in mind when it pushed the 2012 legislation that made California one of the few states officially to authorize self-driving cars. Google's hope was to trade the independence to innovate without government oversight for regulatory certainty.

Three years later, both a company that abhors bureaucracy and a DMV struggling to write rules beyond its expertise are exasperated.

While self-driving cars are not close to being widely available, Google hinted in 2014 it wanted to get self-driving cars into public hands as early as 2016, probably starting with employees outside its small corps of self-driving car experts.

More recently, the project's leader, Chris Urmson, has said he doesn't want his eldest son to need a driver's license when he turns 16 in 3-1/2 years.

The bubble-shaped, two-seater prototype can't go anywhere, any time. It is limited to places Google has surveyed in far greater detail than its online maps. It can't handle fog or snow. Top speed: 25 mph.

Google antsy as California slow on self-driving car rules
This Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, photo provided by Virginia Tech shows Virginia Tech Center for Technology Development Program Administration Specialist Greg Brown sits behind the wheel of a driverless car during a test ride showing the alert system handing over automation to the driver while driving on a local Blacksburg, Va. street. (Justin Fine/Virginia Tech via AP)

Google's 73 cars are among the 98 test vehicles that California's DMV has given 10 companies permission to test publicly.

Though trained test drivers must sit behind the wheel, Google wants to remove the wheel and pedals for the general public. Its argument: It would be safer to take all control away than expect a person to snap safely to attention in an emergency.

As a famously data-driven company, Google proposes a composite sketch of evidence would show its cars are safe.

Each day, Google runs more than 3 million miles of computerized driving simulations. Engineers devise challenging real-world situations, then see how the cars respond. A "functional safety analysis" assesses what hardware or software might fail and how to minimize those risks.

Public road testing is the last piece. Google reports its cars have been involved in 17 collisions over 2.2 million miles of testing, nearly 1.3 million miles in self-driving mode. While that accident rate appears to be higher than for human drivers (though Google disputes that), accident summaries Google has published say its cars did not cause any accident.

Google has pressed California's DMV to publish regulations far harder than any other company.

"Our team is concerned about the delay," according to an invitation for a conference call last December that Google sent California officials, who released it under a public records act request.

Both before and after, Google representatives consistently checked with officials at the DMV and California State Transportation Agency about the status of rules. State officials have trooped from Sacramento to Silicon Valley for test rides, while Google's technical experts and lobbyists have headed to the capital for briefings or talks about regulation writing.

"The worst thing would be for California, sort of the birth state of this technology, to accidentally sort of shut things down," Sarah Hunter, public policy director at the experimental lab Google spun off to focus on ambitious projects such as self-driving cars and Internet-beaming balloons, said at a public presentation in September.

Google antsy as California slow on self-driving car rules
This Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, photo provided by Virginia Tech shows the Automated Vehicle Info Center display panel of a self-driving car during a test ride showing the alert system handing over control to the driver on a local street in Blacksburg, Va. (Justin Fine/Virginia Tech via AP)

Shortly before, she jokingly jabbed a co-panelist who is the top DMV self-driving car official. Asked when self-driving technology would be "mainstream," Hunter responded: "Whenever the DMV pass their operational regulations."

There's frustration to go around.

At the DMV, officials have pleaded for input from Google and traditional automakers to help set a clear, objective safety standard. At a meeting in May in Washington, traditional automakers joined Google in voicing concern that regulation—particularly in California—could stifle innovation.

There are no federal regulations on self-driving cars.

Still, California officials are "taking cues" from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the state's secretary of transportation, Brian Kelly. NHTSA's official position holds that any state which authorizes should require a licensed driver who can take control.

"My sense of it is we're getting a go-slow message from the federal government," Kelly said. He said that made sense for safety, but as a state famous for innovation, "we want to work through some of those sticky issues." He hopes the DMV will publish draft rules for public input by year's end.

In interviews, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind and his boss, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, said the federal government's message to California was "go safe." Intriguing as the technology's life-saving potential may be, California should not hastily write new regulations, despite "pressure" to do so, Rosekind wrote DMV Director Jean Shiomoto in April.

Over the summer, Google expanded its road testing from Silicon Valley to Texas, where state law would not prohibit cars without pedals and a wheel. Some within California's DMV wondered whether Google's move was motivated by frustration with its home state.


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Nov 16, 2015
From that post it is clear that self-driving car would never happen because car will never pass the same road test as human since it need to know where it is going. Not to mention 25 mi/h, no snow, rain, fog, strong wind, (90% of driving conditions) licensed driver inside and road must be mapped to the quarter inch accuracy all requirements that makes it just a wet dream for SV megalomaniac with mountains of cash. I did not mention GPS spoofing and hacking of the system by network spoofing. It is failed endeavor strait to museum of wasted money where it belongs. There is already self or somebody else's driving vehicle called train and airplane or transportation system. That's the past and the future after we wake up from this unicorn nightmare.

Nov 16, 2015
Here is about other disrupting ideas of Wall street and Silicon Valley cash bloated unicorns.

https://sostratus...ruption/

Nov 16, 2015
Hacking of the system is not unique to self driving cars (as already demonstrated here: http://www.wired....highway/

I see no reason why self driving cars should not operate in snow/rain/fog/wind. Certainly there are extreme weather conditions where they cannot opearet - but those will be conditions where humans are lost driving a similar vehicle, too.

Nov 16, 2015
Set one of these automatons loose in Melbourne Australia. Remember that we drive on the left. At some intersections in Melbourne, to execute a right turn one must turn left, travel a wee way then do a U turn right in the space drivers have left for you and then wait for the green signal.
And also while on a highway the vehicle ahead, maybe a large truck, may put on his right flasher to mean, 'It is safe for you to pass me on the right NOW.'
I am sure that other places in the world have quirks in their traffic laws.
Here in South Australia they have enacted laws that adult cyclists and children can ride on footpaths (sidewalks) even in town, at the same speed as the road traffic!!! I kid you not. No advance notice, they just announced, "From tomorrow..." Do the automatons know these overnight rule changes? And do they understand that when one crosses the state boundary there may be a change in the road rules? I bet not. My vote: keep the self drive vehicles off the public roads.

Nov 16, 2015
I am sure that other places in the world have quirks in their traffic laws.

I'm pretty suer the things you mentioned aren't anywhere in the traffic laws.

Do the automatons know these overnight rule changes?

It's not like stuff like this comes up for vote on a second's notice. That you may be taken by surprise by them doesn't mean auto makers are taken by surprise. To put something in law (even something as small as "cyclists may drive on sidewalks") is a rather lengthy process.

And do they understand that when one crosses the state boundary there may be a change in the road rules?

I bet that's a lot easier to implement for autonomous cars than for people. Do you know all the rules that change when you cross a state boundary? You wouldn't even know where to look them up. But autonomous cars need to be certified for all areas where they may be used beforehand - so you can bet that they know..

Nov 16, 2015
Will inebriated drivers be allowed to "operate" these cars? This driver could surmise that even though drunk, he can drive home because the car will get him there safely. Will driver-less cars be equipped with breathalyzer sniffers which will automatically disable the vehicle if necessary?

If the "driver" nods off behind the wheel, will there be a built in eyelid sensor which zaps him/her awake?

How much are these safety features going to add to the cost of such a vehicle?

Maybe the best idea is that humans will not be permitted in driver-less cars.

Nov 16, 2015
Will inebriated drivers be allowed to "operate" these cars?

If the "driver" nods off behind the wheel, will there be a built in eyelid sensor which zaps him/her awake?

As the article states:
"NHTSA's official position holds that any state which authorizes self-driving cars should require a licensed driver who can take control."

If this will be the adopted stance then - if the driver is inebriated or asleep - he/she is not in a position to 'take control'.
The person could enter the car and start driving - but any accidents will be squarely the responsibility of such an incapacitated driver (just like it is now)

Nov 16, 2015
I think we will have more success, not with trying to just throw self-driving cars into the thick of it all (city streets with pedestrians, curvy mountains roads in the rain), but rather let them drive the cars in more controlled settings, like Interstates and Highways. Allow them to be autonomous in that bland environment for a while, then as the technology is proven and becomes better, move on to the complete "car that drives itself". Not to mention that many autonomous cars can communicate with each other, instantly know where they are, share information, and do a better job as a team.

Google wants to just dive right in, but I think they would have more success with autonomous driving in a Highway setting vs an urban setting. The fewer variables, the better, so this technology can be proven.

Nov 16, 2015
Keeping a driver behind the wheel is necessary because of insurance and legal liability. So long as it is a 'driver assist' technology, with a driver behind the wheel, then you can have the driver be the one who needs to have insurance coverage.

If Google wants to sell cars with no control systems for drivers, than Google will have to be the party that needs to have insurance, and will be liable for every accident in which any Google vehicle is at fault.

Of course Google would pass on the cost to the customer one way or another, but the financial relationship probably couldn't be all that similar to what we have now, and that means the whole auto financing industry wouldn't be ready to handle these things either.

Nov 17, 2015
I think they had it right in the movie "Minority Report". The cars would ride on highways that controlled all the cars on it, and they flowed like blood cells in your body. Once he left the city then it was driving as normal on the country roads. That seems to make more sense to me, since All the Cars on this superhighway are controlled centrally, then there should be no issue with liability because if anything goes wrong, all the cars should just slow down and stop. The key is having all vehicles with the same capabilities, and having areas where ALL the cars in that area are controlled by computer, and areas where normal driving takes place. It just seems to work best.

Nov 17, 2015
I think they had it right in the movie "Minority Report"
...
The key is having all vehicles with the same capabilities, and having areas where ALL the cars in that area are controlled by computer, and areas where normal driving takes place.


Minority Report couldn't figure out the financial relationships for driverless cars either. Cars were still advertised, and one of the big chase scenes early in the movie culminates in Colin Farrel catching up to Tom Cruise in a Lexus factory (in the middle of the city, lol). Is Lexus just a look or are they better cars?

For the Minority Report style highway, governments would have to pay but lack the experience to build it. Every accident would become a legal battle between car maker-owner-maintainer and highway-maker-maintainer.

In Minority Report, Cruise / John Anderton did, iirc, cause accidents / damage by engaging the manual override and jumping from car to car etc. Google doesn't want there to be an override.

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