Google plans to make about 100 of its prototype autonomous cars, whose speed will be capped at 25 mph.
Aug. 22, 2014 7:44 pm
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caused a stir earlier this year when it unveiled a self-driving car without a steering wheel, or pedals for braking and accelerating.
But Google’s goal of an autonomous car is bumping up against new testing rules from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
The rules, which take effect on Sept. 16, require a driver to be able to take “immediate physical control” of a vehicle on public roads if needed. That means the car must have a steering wheel and brake and accelerator pedals, according to
the top official developing the rules for the state.
Google could test its fully autonomous prototype on private roads, or try to test the vehicle on public roads outside California.
But the company said it plans to comply with the California rule by building a small, temporary steering-wheel and pedal system that drivers can use during testing.
“With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary,” Google spokeswoman
The bump in the road shows how far Google has to travel to get fully autonomous cars on city streets and highways. The technology has to maneuver a host of obstacles, including acceptance by the general public and the issue of liability when accidents happen.
Google is particularly keen on developing a vehicle without a steering wheel and pedals because the company is gunning for the goal of a completely autonomous vehicle that can operate without any human intervention. This is a longer-term and riskier attempt than those efforts made at many car companies, which are integrating autonomous features, such as self-parking and lane-straightening, into existing vehicles.
Liability might be a bigger hurdle for the Google project than testing rules. When there is no driver, the question of who is to blame in an accident gets complicated and the possible targets of lawsuits expand. The company that designed the technology might be targeted, along with the manufacturer, the car’s owner and any passengers who were riding in the vehicle at the time of an accident.
California’s testing rules try to tackle these emerging liability questions by requiring that companies involved in testing self-driving vehicles have $5 million in insurance or self-insurance or a bond in the same amount.
the chief executive of Velodyne Inc., which makes laser technology used by Google’s autonomous cars, is concerned about liability risks and said California’s $5 million requirement is onerous for smaller companies.
This liability risk, and the cost to insure against it, could increase the cost of Velodyne’s laser devices by thousands of dollars, Mr. Hall estimated.
“Who pays when there’s a crash? Who will insure us against this?” he said.
Google said it is being cautious; regulators are treading even more carefully.
director of safety for Google’s car project, asked the California DMV earlier this year to allow other types of autonomous vehicles, such as motorcycles and trucks, to be tested. The state declined.
“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,” Mr. Soriano said.
Google is making about 100 of its prototype autonomous cars. It caps their speed at 25 mph to make them easier to handle and limit damage if an accident occurs. Testing on private roads is expected to start next month and will include the temporary manual controls, Google said.
The company hopes it can put ordinary Californians in autonomous cars for test runs on public roads in a couple of years. State officials are drafting rules for those tests, which would allow cars without steering wheels or pedals, Mr. Soriano said.
Google has discussed using these pilots to test different ways of deploying the technology, including as a taxi or courier service, Mr. Soriano added.
Claire Hughes Johnson,
an executive in the Google Self-Driving Car Project, said in a speech in July that the technology could be valuable if it is provided as a service.
“What if you all got here today in a self-driving car that dropped you off and then left?” she asked the audience. “So you may not be able to buy one, but you may be able to drive in one in the next five years.”
Write to Alistair Barr at email@example.com