Google's AI gets green light to drive autonomous vehicles in US

10 February 2016
By Jack Loughran
Mobile version
Share |
It is hoped that the new approach could speed up the testing and development of driverless vehicles

It is hoped that the new approach could speed up the testing and development of driverless vehicles

US vehicle safety regulators have told Google that an artificial intelligence system can be considered a driver under federal law, opening the door to autonomous vehicles that do not need qualified drivers in them to operate.

In a letter to the search giant, The National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) said: "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 new ruling enables Google to progress with its plans to develop a car with "no need for a human driver", a proposed design which was submitted in November last year.

"We agree with Google its [self-driving car] will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years," the letter continued.

A number of major automakers are currently developing the technology, with some already selling vehicles that can drive themselves in certain conditions, such as on the highway.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance recently announced that it planned to release 10 vehicles with autonomous drive technology in the next four years, with the first models arriving as early as 2016.

Ford has also entered the fray and it has been reported that they are considering teaming up with Google to produce some of its first commercial vehicles.

Many of the protagonists working on autonomous driving have complained that US state and federal safety rules are impeding the testing and eventual deployment of such vehicles.

California has proposed draft rules that require steering wheels and a licensed driver in all self-driving cars, which Google feels is restrictive and would slow deployment of the technology on American roads.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for the Kelley Blue Book automotive research firm, said there were still significant legal questions surrounding autonomous vehicles.

He admitted that if the NHTSA is prepared to name artificial intelligence as a viable alternative to human-controlled vehicles, "it could substantially streamline the process of putting autonomous vehicles on the road".

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.

In its letter to Google, the NHTSA, said that a number of issues still needed to be overcome and that further discussion would need to be had: "The next question is whether and how Google could certify that the [self-driving system] meets a standard developed and designed to apply to a vehicle with a human driver."

Google is "still evaluating" NHTSA's lengthy response, a company spokesperson said.

It believes its autonomous vehicles will have a number of advantages over traditional cars outside of the obvious benefits. AI drivers have the potential to be safer, as human error is considered to be responsible for the large majority of road accidents.

Google’s technology could also bring energy efficiency savings, with cars automatically taking the route with the lowest fuel use and regulating their speed to get the best mile per gallon.

However, a recent study has shown that around a fifth of the energy-saving benefits of fuel-efficient cars are eroded because people end up driving them more.

Research by the University of Sussex that looked into British motoring habits over the last 40 years found that lower cost driving resulted in a "rebound effect" that lead to car owners using their vehicles 20 per cent more.

The team looked at both improvements in fuel efficiency and reductions in fuel prices to determine their impacts on the habits of drivers.

In an attempt to make their estimate as accurate as possible, the Sussex researchers tested more than a hundred different models, each focusing on different variables.

Dr Lee Stapleton, with the University's Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand, said, "Improvements in fuel efficiency should lead to reductions in fuel consumption, but since improved fuel efficiency makes driving cheaper, some of the potential fuel savings are 'taken back' through increased driving.

"We call this the rebound effect and it is well-documented in other sectors. For instance, we know that insulation of housing encourages people to enjoy warmer homes, rather than taking all the benefits in the form of lower bills.

"Until now, we didn't know the size of this effect for British motoring. We found evidence of a significant, long-term rebound and expect our results to be of interest for public policy."

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Control System Engineer

    United Utilities
    • Lancaster, Lancashire
    • Up to £33415 + Comprehensive Benefits

    Provide ICA maintenance and engineering support to the Water & Wastewater Production

    • Recruiter: United Utilities

    Apply for this job

  • Signal Processing Engineer

    B&W Group
    • Steyning, West Sussex
    • Competitive Salary

    We are looking for a Signal Processing Engineer to support the R&D process on active loudspeaker products.

    • Recruiter: B&W Group

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Mechanical & Electrical Engineer

    De Montfort University
    • Leicestershire
    • Grade G: £36,672 - £46,414 per annum

    Join the Projects Team to develop and manage medium to large projects on the university estate.

    • Recruiter: De Montfort University

    Apply for this job

  • Advanced Commissioning Engineer

    National Grid
    • Nottinghamshire, Nottingham, England
    • £46000 - £57000 per year

    National Grid is at the heart of energy in the UK. The electricity we provide gets the nation to work, powers schools and lights everyone's way home. Our energy network connects the nation, so it's essential that it's continually evolving, advancing and i

    • Recruiter: National Grid

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Design Engineer

    Oxford Instruments
    • Yatton, Bristol
    • Competitive salary plus excellent benefits

    We are looking for an electrical designer to join our engineering design team.

    • Recruiter: Oxford Instruments

    Apply for this job

  • Skilled Electrical Fitter

    MBDA
    • Bolton
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   The Electrical Fitter will carry out manufacturing and test tasks within the electrical department in accordance with product certification procedures, defined workmanship  ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Manufacturing Technician

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   As a qualified craftsman with experience in electrical manufacturing, the Manufacturing Technician will report to a Team Leader, receiving day to day ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power)

    BAE Systems
    • Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power) Would you like to play a key role in providing technical direction to the design of power systems on the Successor class submarines, which will replace the current Trident-equipped Vanguard class, currently in servic

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxford, Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager to join our existing team in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Technical Lead - Global Operations, Engineering & Laboratory

    Pfizer Ltd
    • Kent

    An exciting opportunity has arisen to join a dynamic team of professional engineers, supporting the development of novel drugs.

    • Recruiter: Pfizer Ltd

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T