US sig­nal move to­ward em­brac­ing self-driv­ing cars

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

LOS AN­GE­LES: Fed­eral trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials are re­think­ing their po­si­tion on self­driv­ing cars with an eye to­ward get­ting the emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy into the pub­lic’s hands.

Just two years ago, the US De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion struck a cau­tious tone. Its of­fi­cial pol­icy state­ment, pub­lished in May 2013, says cars should be lim­ited to test­ing and not “au­tho­rized for use by mem­bers of the pub­lic for gen­eral driv­ing pur­poses.”

With the tech­nol­ogy’s rapid de­vel­op­ment, that fed­eral pol­icy is be­ing up­dated, Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary An­thony Foxx said Tues­day. “I want the pos­ture of our agency to be ob­vi­ously vig­i­lant on the safety front, but I don’t want our agency to be skit­tish about in­no­va­tions that are out there,” Foxx said.

It’s un­clear what the new pol­icy will be, but Foxx clearly sig­naled that the tech­nol­ogy in­trigues him. He told re­porters that he hoped the up­date over­seen by his de­part­ment’s Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion would be ready in “weeks, not months.”

For sev­eral years, Google and a hand­ful of au­tomak­ers in­clud­ing Tesla Mo­tors, Nis­san and Honda have been test­ing pro­to­types equipped with a suite of sen­sors and cam­eras on pub­lic streets and high­ways, mostly in Cal­i­for­nia.

Those cars must have some­one be­hind the wheel, ready to take over. Some have got­ten into col­li­sions, though in each case the com­pa­nies say a per­son in another car caused the ac­ci­dent. Google has ad­vo­cated get­ting self-driv­ing cars into the pub­lic do­main as quickly as pos­si­ble once the tech ti­tan concludes the tech­nol­ogy is safe.

While states have taken the lead on reg­u­lat­ing self-driv­ing cars, pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton hold in­di­rect sway over states’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Cal­i­for­nia’s De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles in par­tic­u­lar has sought fed­eral guid­ance as it strug­gles with how to move the cars safely from small-scale road tests to broader adop­tion.

Lan­guage that the fed­eral govern­ment is re­vis­it­ing spec­i­fies that in states where the pub­lic can get ac­cess to the cars, a li­censed driver should be be­hind the wheel.

Google sees that as un­nec­es­sary. It has ar­gued that once cars can drive as safely as hu­mans, it would be bet­ter to re­move the steer­ing wheel and ped­als so that peo­ple don’t mess up the ride.

A Google spokesman had no com­ment on word of the fed­eral re­view. The Cal­i­for­nia State Trans­porta­tion Agency has in­ter­preted the 2013 fed­eral guid­ance as urg­ing cau­tion. The fed­eral up­date “reaf­firms that the topic is evolv­ing and one wor­thy of con­tin­ued dis­cus­sion and pub­lic in­put,” spokes­woman Melissa Figueroa said. The De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles is work­ing to pub­lish draft reg­u­la­tions by year’s end, Figueroa said. The draft was due last Jan. 1, but con­cerns such as prov­ing that the tech­nol­ogy is safe have held up those rules.

The non­profit group Con­sumer Watch­dog has been ad­vo­cat­ing re­straint. “The Cal­i­for­nia DMV cor­rectly is fo­cused on get­ting the reg­u­la­tions cor­rect, rather than rush­ing them out the door,” John Simp­son of Con­sumer Watch­dog said in a writ­ten state­ment Tues­day. Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties must “not suc­cumb to cor­po­rate pres­sure to move so fast that our safety on the high­ways is com­pro­mised.”

— AP

MOUN­TAIN VIEW: In this May 13, 2015, file photo, Google’s new self-driv­ing prototype car is pre­sented dur­ing a demon­stra­tion at the Google cam­pus in Moun­tain View, Calif. Fed­eral trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials say they are up­dat­ing their po­si­tion on self-driv­ing cars, with a goal of get­ting the emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy into the pub­lic’s hands sooner than later.

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