The state department of motor vehicles announced that testing of self-driving cars that have a remote human operator backing up their computerized system, rather than depending on a fallback driver at the wheel, could begin on California roads as early as April. A remote human operator would be able to control several autonomous vehicles from a distance. Relying on them is a step that would clear a path to profitability in the promising field of self-driving technology as it would eliminate requirements of in-car minders in California. According to experts, ride hailing services would be the first to adopt these cars because they would want to maximize passengers and eliminate paid backups.
Currently, there is an ongoing race for developing autonomous vehicles and some big names such as technology giant Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and global auto-manufacturers like General Motors are working on it. If these companies will have the remote monitoring technology by April, they will be able to test their cars on public roads for the first time without having any physical drivers in the vehicle. The military and NASA already make use of this remote control technology and it is seen as a way to quickly bring about the commercial launch of self-driving cars.
Approval of the new regulations is expected to be issued later this month and will be implemented in April, after giving the public a notice period of about one month. Companies such as Waymo, Nissan and some startups like Phantom Auto, Zoox and Starsky Robotics have been working on a technology that would allow a remote operator to control the vehicle if there are any problems in the underlying autonomous system. Co-founder of Phantom Auto, Elliot Katz said that the ultimate backup that can be provided is human. At the CES technology conference last month, his startup demonstrated how it was possible to remotely control cars that were driving in Las Vegas from 500 miles away, sitting in Mountain View, California.
Katz said that the public and lawmakers would also be assured by the presence of a remote operator. He added that such technology would be deployed by companies on roads in California soon after April. Some lawmakers are concerned with the idea of completely eliminating drivers from the cars who could take over the vehicle in case of a problem. The safeguards have been questioned by US Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California in an autonomous vehicle bill, which has been stalled in the Senate currently.
The legal compliance agency in California is expected to approve the new regulations by February 26th. Once this is done, the DMV will open a public notice period of one month that would begin on March 1st. During this notice period, companies that wish to test their self-driving cars will prepare their applications. Jessica Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for DMV said that the first permits are expected to be issued on April 2nd after the applications would be submitted ad the notice period would be over.