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Earlier in the week I gave an overview of Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel. That was largely about the factors that would make autonomous vehicle manufacturers successful, and how accepting the general public are of the technology. But here in California, it is the DMV that decides who gets to do what and when. In the afternoon, Miguel Acosta of the DMV spoke. He is the chief of autonomous vehicles. So get in line to take a number, and then wait for your number to come round.
In the rest of this post, when I say DMV I mean the California DMV. Other DMVs are available (49 of them).
Miguel started with a clarification of who does what between the federal government and the states. The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for the safety of vehicles. California is responsible for the safe operation of them, via the DMV. Of course, with autonomous vehicles, there is an overlap between the safety of the vehicles and the safety of operation, since the vehicles are operating themselves. Right now, NTHSA is responsible for levels 1-2, which are in vehicles on the road today. The DMV is responsible for levels 3-5 which are only allowed under special licenses. You can't go and buy a level 4 car, only people like Uber, Waymo, and Cruise can operate them under experimental licenses. One detail is that it is currently illegal to provide paid service (robotaxis) with the test vehicles. This is different from Nevada, for example, since I've been in a driverless Lyft ride there (with a safety driver and a safety engineer). And in Arizona, just the day before the conference, Waymo had applied for permission to run taxis without safety drivers in the Phoenix area. Phoenix is the ideal test ground for autonomy, with wide straight modern roads, good weather with no snow or fog, and relatively low traffic density. Boston, not so much of any of those.
He gave a short history. In 2012, the DMV was given the responsibility to regulate autonomous vehicles in the state. In 2014 it permitted them with a safety driver. There are lots of rules, of course, such as the safety driver not having a prior DUI. Then, in 2018, it allowed companies to apply for permits to test vehicles without a safety driver. In 2019, it proposed regulations to allow "light-duty delivery vehicles" but this regulation has not yet been enacted.
Miguel had the numbers. There are 69 testing permits issued with safety drivers. Just one permit has been issued without safety drivers (to Waymo). Of those permits, 64 are active. There are 2,725 approved safety drivers inside 840 vehicles. The graph above shows the growth (the yellow line) and the permits issued per year (the blue line). The permits issued has fallen almost to zero, meaning that anyone who wants one has already applied.
The companies have to report all accidents, however minor, and all disengagements. A disengagement is when the safety driver has to take over. This could be due to a problem with the autonomous driving, but also could be a mechanical failure, or dangerous behavior by another road user.
Most of the accidents are actually other vehicles hitting the autonomous vehicles. Rear-end collisions are the most common, and sideswipes the next most common (red and green in the pie chart). In San Francisco, there have been attacks on cars (recorded as "Vandalism"). Miguel had a map of where all the accidents occurred. They are mostly in San Francisco or "around here". We were in the Computer History Museum near the Googleplex where Waymo is located. If you drive much around Mountain View then you will have seen test vehicles, for sure.
Miguel was asked who is legally responsible for a level 4 or 5 vehicles. He said that today there is not a full answer, it is work in progress. But today, testing with a safety driver, it is the manufacturers who have the responsibility.
Nadim Maluf of Qnovo talked about the infrastructure for electric vehicles. I'll just show a couple of his slides.
First, the cost of batteries. They are getting cheaper (of course!) but he anticipates that by 2014 the cost of electric traction and ICE will be equivalent. Today, the batteries are so expensive that EVs are more expensive than equivalent ICE or hybrids over the lifetime of the car.
And he had the perfect wrap-up slide. The future's so bright you've got to...drive an electric vehicle.
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