U.S. lets au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle by­pass rules

Antelope Valley Press - - BUSINESS - By TOM KRISHER

DETROIT — For the first time, the U.S. govern­ment’s high­way safety agency has ap­proved a com­pany’s re­quest to de­ploy a self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle that doesn’t need to meet the same fed­eral safety stan­dards for cars and trucks driven by hu­mans.

The Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion granted tem­po­rary ap­proval for Sil­i­con Val­ley ro­bot­ics com­pany Nuro to run lowspeed au­ton­o­mous de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles that were de­signed with­out any ac­com­mo­da­tions for hu­man driv­ers. That means no side and rear-view mir­rors, wind­shield wipers, steer­ing wheels or brake ped­als.

The ve­hi­cles pre­vi­ously were sub­ject to fed­eral stan­dards for low-speed ve­hi­cles that travel un­der 25 miles per hour. Those didn’t need to have steer­ing wheels, brake ped­als or hu­man backup driv­ers, but were re­quired to have wind­shield wipers, backup cam­era dis­plays and mir­rors. Nuro’s bat­tery-pow­ered ve­hi­cles can be mon­i­tored and con­trolled re­motely by a hu­man op­er­a­tor, if needed.

The ap­proval is the first sign that NHTSA is mov­ing from ab­stract state­ments and vol­un­tary stan­dards gov­ern­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles to ac­tual reg­u­la­tion, said Bryant Walker Smith, a Univer­sity of South Carolina law pro­fes­sor who stud­ies ve­hi­cle au­to­ma­tion. It’s a sig­nal that the agency, which has stated pub­licly that it doesn’t want to stand in the way of the new tech­nol­ogy, is likely to ap­prove more ve­hi­cles, he said.

“This is the first time that the agency said ‘yes we ap­prove this ve­hi­cle that does not meet tra­di­tional driver-ori­ented stan­dards,’” he said.

Un­der the tem­po­rary ap­proval, Nuro will have to make real-time safety re­ports to the agency. Nuro also will have to hold reg­u­lar meet­ings with the agency and reach out to the com­mu­nity in areas where the ve­hi­cles will travel.

“NHTSA is ded­i­cated to fa­cil­i­tat­ing the safe test­ing and de­ploy­ment of ad­vanced ve­hi­cle tech­nolo­gies, in­clud­ing in­no­va­tive ve­hi­cle de­signs, which hold great prom­ise for fu­ture safety im­prove­ments.

As al­ways, we will not hes­i­tate to use defect au­thor­ity to pro­tect pub­lic safety as nec­es­sary,” said NHTSA Act­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tor James Owens.

The agency will use en­force­ment pow­ers if it finds any ev­i­dence of an un­rea­son­able risk to safety, the state­ment said.

In De­cem­ber Nuro an­nounced plans to use its lowspeed de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles in part­ner­ship with Wal­mart to de­liver gro­ceries to cus­tomers in Hous­ton. The ser­vice was to start early this year and use the ve­hi­cles as well as au­to­mated Toy­ota Prius hy­brid cars. Nuro also was test­ing de­liv­er­ies with Kroger in Ari­zona and Hous­ton.

Nuro, of Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia, an­nounced a new ver­sion of its au­ton­mated de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle called the “R2” on Thurs­day. It’s the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of a ve­hi­cle that’s cus­tom built to de­liver goods, but not peo­ple.

The com­pany said it plans to de­ploy fewer than 100 ve­hi­cles this year, but has per­mis­sion from NHTSA to even­tu­ally run as many as 2,500.


This un­dated im­age pro­vided by Nuro in Fe­bru­ary 2020 shows their self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle “R2” car­ry­ing bags of gro­ceries.

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