California has paved the way for driverless cars to cruise the highways…eventually. New rules mean that a human will no longer need to be present in test vehicles.
On Monday, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced new rules that will allow self-driving vehicles on the road without a person in the car for safety. The rules will come into effect on April 2.
Under the new rules, tech companies working on driverless vehicle systems can begin trials of driverless cars without a safety driver at the wheel. Until now, the DMV has allowed driverless cars to be tested only if a safety driver is on hand to take over.
“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”
However, ordinary mortals won’t be hitching a ride in a driverless car anytime soon. Companies wishing to test these vehicles need to secure a special permit from the DMV.
In 2014, California became the first state to establish rules for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. The state has so far awarded a license to test self-driving technology to 50 companies.
California is the most populous state in the US, with almost 40 million residents. Many of the most prominent driverless tech companies are based in the Golden State. Some consumer advocates have expressed dismay over the decision, however.
“A remote test operator will be allowed to monitor and attempt to control the robot car from afar. It will be just like playing a video game, except lives will be at stake,” said John M. Simpson, privacy and technology director at Consumer Watchdog.
Driverless cars are also on the menu in Florida. Ford Motor Company has announced plans to pilot semi-automated delivery vehicles. In partnership with Domino’s Pizza and Postmates, the robo-cars will deliver food around the streets of Miami and Miami Beach.
The catch: delivery cars are not actually driverless. While the company hopes the cars will be completely automated soon, the initiative aims to suss out how customers interact with the delivery vehicle.
“What we learn from this customer experience research will be applied to the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that we plan to launch in 2021 to support the expansion of our service,” said Sherif Marakby, VP of autonomous vehicles and electrification at Ford.
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