Californian regulators allow driverless shuttles to be tested without drivers

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Regulators and innovators are uneasy bed fellows but slowly regulators are relaxing the reigns, letting companies do what they do best – innovate

A bill signed into law last Thursday by California Governor Jerry Brown allows a self-driving vehicle with no operator inside to test on a public road – a key step enabling a private business park outside San Francisco to test driverless shuttles.

Self-driving cars are already allowed to test on California public roads by 15 automakers, technology companies and startups, including Alphabet’s Google, Ford, Honda and Tesla. But under current state regulations, a person must be in the driver’s seat for monitoring, and the car must have brakes and a steering wheel.

 

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The bill introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla allows testing in Contra Costa County northeast of San Francisco of the first full-autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel, brakes, accelerator or, more importantly, an operator.

A project at the Bishop Ranch office park in the city of San Ramon to deploy driverless shuttles from French company Easymile had been on hold pending passage of the bill. Easymile already operates the shuttles in Europe.

New legislation was necessary because although driverless vehicles can be tested on private land like the office park, the shuttle will cross a public road on its loop through the campus.

The new law means that two cube like Easymile shuttles that travel no faster than 25 mph will be tested for a period of up to six months before being deployed and used by people.

 

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In an interview in March, Bonilla said the “natural tension” between regulators concerned about safety and lawmakers trying to encourage innovation in their state necessitated a new bill.

“They’re risk averse and we’re saying we need to open the door here and take steps (to innovate),” Bonilla said, calling the driverless shuttle project “a very wise first out-of-the- gate opportunity” to show how the technology could work safely.

Those working on self-driving vehicles believe their first real-world applications will be on campuses, business parks and other controlled environments with less traffic and fewer distractions than busy urban streets.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, CNBC, Discovery, RT, and Viacom, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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