California Now Allows Cars to Wander Around on Their Own

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When it comes to autonomous vehicles, California is the capital of the world. Literally countless car manufacturers who wanted to test their autonomous cars during the past few years did it in California and the reason was simply the permissibility of the local laws. However, the limitation of having a human who is a holder of a driving license sitting on the driver’s seat was still there so you couldn’t actually have your car come and pick you up. This will soon change as the Department of Motor Vehicles has announced their intention to restructure the rules by the end of the year, finally allowing self-driving cars to wander the Californian streets like ghost cars.

The decision was based on the intention of the Federal Road Safety Agency to form a seamless testing platform for automakers and startups to actually test their vehicles on level 5 autonomous driving classification conditions, which means get out there and drive to the set destination no matter the weather conditions or the systems’ status. This includes actual testing and development of graceful degradation systems for the cars that is a very important factor for their reliability and safety.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone can claim the safety of their product, they have to prove it before being granted the license to initiate the tests and this involves submitting documents that detail exactly how their cars detect obstacles on the road and most importantly pedestrians, how exactly they react when trying to avoid them, and what happens if a critical system fails. If a car passes this evaluation, it is allowed to hit the road without the requirement for a driver, a steering wheel, or any pedals.

At this point, it is interesting to look into a collection of relevant data which prove that the decision to allow driverless cars wasn’t immature at this time:

  • Google’s fleet has covered a distance of more than 635000 miles experiencing only 124 safety-related disengagements in total, with only two being recorded during 2016 when 10000 testing miles were covered. This proves how much the technology has matured already, and is indicative of the level of safety that can already be enjoyed by passengers inside autonomous cars.
  • Cruise, a General Motors subsidiary has reported 181 disengagements throughout a test┬ádriving distance of 9776 miles which is a much higher rate but considering the fact that the testing was conducted in the complex streets of San Francisco, that is not bad at all.
  • Tesla reports 182 disengagements throughout 550 miles, but their testing prototypes didn’t feature a much sophisticated self-driving system, but more like a basic one.

One thing is for sure, and that is that driver-less cars that will be completely safe to pedestrians and passengers are going to gradually conquer the world day by day, city by city, country by country. It has started in California, but soon they will be everywhere. The control and degradation systems are already impressively reliable, accurate, and precise.

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I'm an engineer with a passion for writing about new technologies and the ways they shape our world and amplify our very existence.