Google's prototype self-driving car will have a steering wheel after all

Rules set by the California DMV require a steering wheel on all test vehicles so that the driver can take over in the case of failure.

Google’s prototype self-driving car was unveiled to much fanfare with just two buttons – stop and go – for its test-track existence. But the introduction of new rules from the California department of motor vehicles (DMV) means the company will have reintroduce that near-obsolete technology known as a “steering wheel” and a “brake pedal”.

The regulations, which come into effect in mid-September, set out the safety procedures companies must adopt before they can test autonomous vehicles in the state. The new rules include procedures for reporting accidents, licensing requirements for the cars themselves, a $5m insurance bond against accidents, and a number of limitations on who is allowed to test the cars.

Crucually, they require that the human drivers of the cars sit in a driver’s seat and be able to take “immediate manual control” of the vehicle if the autonomous driving system disengages or misbehaves.

The California DMV confirmed that in order to comply with the requirement, the prototype self-driving cars – whose physical controls currently consist just of two buttons and a touch screen – will have to be retrofitted with a steering wheel and pedals.

“With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features, while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary,” a Google spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal.

Alongside the requirement for manual controls, California’s regulations also require companies testing manual cars to submit an annual report to the DMV, and pay a $150 fee for a permit allowing them to test up to 10 vehicles with 20 licensed drivers. And bikers will have to wait a bit longer: the rules ban autonomous motorbikes.

What’s more, the prospect of driving an autonomous vehicle without a license remains distant.

The new rules actually require test drivers to be more qualified than they would be to drive a normal car: they must have “been licensed to drive a motor vehicle for the three years immediately preceding application to the department”, have no more than one point on their license, never have been behind the wheel when injuring someone, and not have been convicted for drunk driving in the last decade.

Google has posted a number of videos showing people in its self-driving cars - including a man with limited vision, sitting in the driving seat of an adapted car travelling over a “carefully planned route”. As on-the-road testing of Google’s cars comes nearer, more and more specifics are being made public as to how the cars will operate.

Although the prototype cars will have a top speed of 25mph, the lead software engineer of the project told Reuters that the another version of the car, built around a Lexus SUV, can be programmed to exceed the speed limit by up to 10mph if doing so leads to a safer drive.

Since sticking to the speed limit can be dangerous if surrounding traffic is exceeding it, Dmitri Dolgov says that the cars are programmed to go up to 10mph above the limit if traffic conditions warrant.

While that might be safer, it remains to be seen if Google could persist with that attitude legally. In Britain, a department for transport spokesman told the BBC that “There are no plans to change speed limits, which will still apply to driverless cars”.

The guardian.com


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!