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California to allow fully autonomous vehicles by April

The autonomous Cruise AV will feature no driver, steering wheel, pedals or other manual controls when it goes on the road in 2019. Source: GM

New ruling from the state’s DMV will offer companies permits to operate autonomous vehicles without a human driver behind the wheel from April

In a landmark ruling, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has said it will scrap legislation which requires a human to be in the driver’s seat while an autonomous vehicle (AV) is in operation. The move means that as of April 2, 2018, the department can begin issuing permits – and driverless cars will be a legal reality in the state.

According to the DMV, some 50 companies currently have a licence to test AVs with a driver in the state.

Under the new regulations, vehicle manufacturers must still obtain a driverless testing and/or a deployment permit from the DMV and comply with the permit requirements, if they wish to either test an autonomous vehicle without a driver – or indeed allow the public to use that technology.

“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” said DMV director Jean Shiomoto. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”

GM has already conducting trials of autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs in San Francisco, with plans for a wider roll-out this year in partnership with ride-hailing service Lyft. More recently it also unveiled the first image of its Cruise AV – its first production car without a steering wheel or pedals.

Meanwhile, rival firm Uber is undertaking its own trials in San Francisco using Ford Fusions. In response to the DMV’s decision, Uber spokesperson Sarah Abboud said that: “This is a significant step toward an autonomous future in the state, and signals that California is interested in leading by example in the deployment of autonomous vehicles.”

 

Other start-ups like Cruise Automation, have published regular updates on their technology, such as the video below:

Arizona has also been a hotbed of testing, thanks to the state’s more relaxed approach to regulation and technology. According to the New York Times, the state currently has no legislation on AVs. Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Alphabet, has been operating AVs in the state since last year and has used them for passenger transport.

The move is certainly good for EVs, many of which are being designed from the ground up to incorporate connected and self-driving features. However, powering all that self-driving technology remains a barrier. Hyundai, for example, has argued that FCEVs are better suited to autonomous roles because the additional power demand will shorten the range of battery-only models.

In general, observers have suggested that AV technology could reduce fuel economy by 5-10%.

Whatever the powertrain, California’s latest ruling will ensure it maintains its status at the very cutting edge of EV and AV technology.

 

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