Yesterday, a raft of new regulations designed to regulate and enable the testing of fully autonomous vehicles on the roads of California came into force, making it easier for automakers and software companies to test out their latest autonomous driving technologies on public highways throughout the state.
Like an adolescent eagerly waiting for their sixteenth birthday, it didn’t take long for German automakers Audi and Mercedes-Benz to queue up for their permits, along with Internet software giant Google.
The difference? Unlike buying your first learners’ permit, autonomous driving permit applicants need to put up at least $5 million in surety bonds for each and every vehicle they plan on testing on the road, something which could get pretty expensive pretty quickly.
While Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Google all obtained their first autonomous drive permits yesterday, the distinction of being the first recipient of a autonomous drive permit went to Audi, which already had an A7 Sedan fitted with autonomous driving technology ready and waiting for the permit to be delivered.
As those familiar with autonomous driving will note, California had previously allowed automakers and software companies to undertake limited testing of autonomous vehicles on Californian roads, making it possible for automakers to at least begin working with self-driving technology within the state. The new rules however, signed into law in 2012 by Californian Governor Jerry Brown, offer a far wider scope and lay out important regulations covering vehicular insurance and operator requirements, including the stipulation that those ‘behind the wheel’ have a full and appropriate vehicular license for the class of autonomous vehicle they are supervising.
The regulations outlined in Senate Bill 1298 — which require the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt a series of measures designed to pave the way for corporate and eventually private autonomous vehicle operation — mandated that the DMV had until January 1, 2015 to bring the relevant self-driving legislation into force, meaning the DMV managed to undertake its regulatory obligation with more than three months to spare.
Talking about the first ever California autonomous vehicle permit Scott Keogh, President of Audi of America, said that Audi was looking forward to the prospect of testing its self-driving technologies on the roads of California. While Audi’s Electronics Research Lab — where the autonomous drive technology is developed — is located in Silicon Valley, Audi has already put its autonomous cars through extensive testing in Nevada and Florida, both of which already allow some testing of autonomous drive technology.
“Audi is a driving force behind the research taking automated driving from science fiction to pre-production readiness,” he said. “Obtaining the first permit issued by the State of California shows that we intend to remain the leader in this vital technology frontier.”
Preferring to call its test programme “Audi Piloted Driving,” Audi says the new regulations will be key to bringing its self-driving technologies to market in the near future. Most likely to debut first will be Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot: a drive feature which takes over from the driver in slow stop/start traffic and can not only keep up with the flow of traffic but can also manage steering and low-speed intersections.
While Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Google may come first, expect a wave of other automakers to apply for similar permits, including Californian local Tesla Motors and Japanese automakers Nissan and Honda, both of whom have already put their self-driving cars through extensive testing in Japan.
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