Driver Controls Forced Onto Google Car

Image: BBC


Steering wheel and pedals are not obsolete…yet.

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has just issued a new directive on the testing of self-driving cars that will see all Google Pod’s parked indefinitely, unless the company adds on manoeuvring controls. The rule, which takes effect from 16 September 2014, necessitates that drivers are able to take “immediate physical control” of the vehicle if the need arises.

Early Google autonomous vehicle prototypes were existing production cars – Toyota Prius, Audi TT and Lexus RX450h – that were augmented with additional hardware and software to enable driverless driving. It wasn’t until May this year that Google revealed its entirely unique autonomous vehicle, built from scratch, which is famed for the absence, rather than presence, of certain features – ie. the steering wheel and pedals.

Google has stated that it will comply with the new requirements, and will fit their fleet of 100 prototypes with temporary steering wheels and pedal system. The space inside the petite vehicle would definitely become more cramp with the introduction of a steering column and pedal box, but these are simply safety measures intended for the testing phase, which will begin in September with members of the public on private roads and, within two years, cross over to public roads.

The actual production vehicle may still discard all maneuvering features. Bernard Soriano, a Californian official who was involved in drafting the rules, said that the rules might be relaxed by the time tests are ready to proceed on public roads.

Google cars are limited to a top speed of 25mph, but have been programmed to exceed that by up to 10mph rather than to hog the road. According to Google, their earlier tests showed that it is safer for their cars to keep abreast with traffic than to cause an obstruction by adhering to the low speed limit.

The UK government is also hastily reviewing their road regulations to allow autonomous vehicle tech to be tested on its roads. In July, Business Secretary, Vince Cable, announced that trials will commence by January next year and invited cities to compete to host one of the three trials that have been planned. He said, “Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets…putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society.”

Other countries had been quicker to allow tests to take place on public roads. Japan’s first public road test with an autonomous car was conducted by Nissan in 2013. Volvo has already obtained permission to test 100 driverless cars in Gothenburg, the second largest Swedish city, albeit tests will not commence until 2017. In the US, besides California, the states of Nevada, Florida and Michigan have passed laws permitting autonomous vehicles.

Earlier this year, Google had requested that the California DMW allows other autonomous vehicles, such as bikes and trucks, to be tested, but the request was declined. Soriano said, “We wanted to take baby steps in terms of testing and how technology is rolled out so we are capable of handling it and Californians accept it.” Sounds like a good idea…but roads completely traversed by all autonomous vehicles also sounds very good.

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