California approves testing of self-driving cars on its roads

21 May 2014

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google; Larry Page, Google co-founder and CEO; and Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, with the self-driving converted Toyota Prius hybrid car pioneered by the internet giant

After much deliberation, the California government has approved a set of rules to allow self-driving cars to be tested on its main roads as of this September.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) gave the approval to allow the autonomous cars, including internet giant Google’s own project, and will further examine their use by the public when a further meeting is held in January.

However, in order for any manufacturers to launch their cars on California’s roads, they must meet particular safety criteria, Ars Technica reported.

As it stands from September, Google and others will need to apply for a testing permit, certify selected drivers to travel in the cars and, what is perhaps the biggest stumbling block for smaller companies, secure a US$5m insurance policy or safety bond.

Just to be sure, the driver can’t simply sit in the back with his or her feet up, but must be in the driver’s seat in case of any eventuality.

Speaking to Ars Technica, Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), said the technology and training involved to get the self-driving car onto every road will be a long process. “As automated systems get more complex, human understanding also gets more complex.

“For a vehicle to suddenly swerve to the right, a human would have to grab (the steering wheel) … training becomes even more important, and it would also be important for general users.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic