California gives full self-driving cars the green light to operate on public roads

The Department of Motor Vehicles in California recently passed regulations that would allow autonomous vehicles without a physical human backup driver to operate on public roads starting in April.

Unlike in-car backup drivers, remote human operators for autonomous vehicles would be capable of controlling multiple self-driving cars from several miles away. In the event that human intervention is required, remote operators would simply override the self-driving cars’ controls to ensure that no untoward incidents happen to the vehicles or their occupants.

Considering the renewed support from the California DMV in the form of the new regulations, there is a pretty good chance that companies actively involved in the development of self-driving vehicle services would extend efforts to start refining their remote technologies by April. As noted in a Reuters report, the remote control technology, which is already being utilized by NASA and the US military, is widely seen as a way to effectively expedite the commercial rollout of self-driving vehicles.

Among the key players in the remote-supported self-driving technology are giants such as Nissan and Waymo, as well as startups like Zoox, Phantom Auto, and Starsky Robotics. In a statement to Reuters, Phantom Auto co-founder Elliot Katz asserted that remote human operators could prove to be the perfect backup systems for self-driving vehicles. Just last month at CES, Katz’ startup demonstrated their remote control technology, driving cars that were controlled from Mountain View, CA in Las Vegas, NV, which is over 500 miles away.

“We think we have the ultimate backup system – which is a human,” Katz said.

In a statement before a Senate hearing last January, Zoox Chief Executive Officer Tim Kentley-Klay stated that an autonomous vehicle command center in a city would be enough to ensure that issues during the self-driving cars’ operations are dealt with in an efficient manner.

“When your model is to have autonomous vehicles deployed as a for-hire service in cities, you are still going to need a command center in that city that has a human-in-the-loop oversight of the fleet, both to deal with vehicles if they have an issue but also to deal with customers if they need help,” the Zoox CEO said, according to Reuters.

The DMV’s is opening a 30-day public notice period for its new regulations starting March 1. If self-driving companies could submit and complete their applications then, permits for the testing and operations of the first remote-supported autonomous cars could be issued by April 2.

As we noted in a previous report, Tesla has been placed by the Navigant research group as dead last in the self-driving race. According to Navigant, Tesla’s split from Mobileye and the subsequent release of Enhanced Autopilot ultimately compromised the California-based electric car maker and energy firm’s place in the autonomous car industry. Despite this, however, the Elon Musk-led firm has encountered challenge after challenge, with improvements to EAP and new features trickling down in a rather steady, albeit slow stream.

California gives full self-driving cars the green light to operate on public roads
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