A Google self-driving car, yesterday

Californian driverless testing proposals anger Google and automakers

Image credit: Grendelkhan

New Californian regulations around driverless car testing have sparked the consternation of Google and automakers who believe it could slow down their development processes.

A group that includes General Motors, Volkswagen, Honda, Ford, and Google have raised a number of concerns expressing opposition to the state’s proposal to require compliance with federal guidelines that were issued last month, but can be voluntarily adopted on a per-state basis.

One of the proposed requirements states that manufacturers generate a year of driverless testing data before applying for an operating permit.

They questioned why California would require a new autonomous vehicle data recorder and what data they would be required to test.

Automakers also questioned whether police should be able to get any self-driving data within 24 hours without seeking a warrant or subpoena.

California regulatory policy is important to automakers and technology companies because of its impact on operations in the state and because the policies enacted in the most populous US states often influence what other states and other countries do.

The state’s approach “could greatly delay the benefits that self-driving vehicles can bring to safety and mobility for individuals,” said David Strickland, who heads the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets that includes Google, Ford, Lyft, Uber and Volvo.

California has been at the forefront of the fast-growing autonomous vehicle industry, fuelled by technology companies in Silicon Valley, and is one of a handful of states to have passed regulations enabling self-driving car testing on public roads.

Earlier this month, the state actually relaxed its requirements including allowing vehicles to be tested without a driver in some circumstances, provided there is two-way communication with the vehicle. 

Pennsylvania is another state that is also friendlier towards the new technology. Uber began testing a driverless taxi service in the city of Pittsburgh in May. 

Brian Soublet, deputy director of the California DMV, said the department wants concrete suggestions to help improve its proposal. Soublet said the department will be considering potential changes over the next several months but he did not give a timetable for finalizing the rules.

“The goal is making sure that we can get this life-saving technology out on the streets,” Soublet said.

Ron Medford, director of safety for Google’s self-driving car project, said California’s proposal to require manufacturers to obtain local approval is “unworkable.” The rule could prevent manufacturers from testing a vehicle that can travel from one area to another.

Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog urged California to prohibit autonomous vehicles without a human driver until federal regulators enact enforceable standards.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Tesla, Elon Musk has said that all new models from his company will come with hardware to enable them to be fully self-driving.

The company said that its Model S and Model X electric cars are already being produced with the new hardware, which includes eight cameras, 12 updated sensors and radar with faster processing.

The new hardware package will cost $8,000 (£6,539), Musk told reporters on a conference call. The software to enable fully autonomous operation is still being tested, he said.

Musk said he expects that by the end of 2017 a Tesla would be able to drive in full autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York “without the need for a single touch” on the wheel.

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