By Alexandria Sage
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Self-driving cars that
back up their computerized system with a remote human operator
instead of a fallback driver at the wheel could be tested on
California roads as early as April, the state department of
motor vehicles said.
Relying on a remote human operator - who could control
multiple autonomous vehicles from miles away - is a step that
would allow a path to profitability in the nascent field of
self-driving technology by eliminating California's requirement
for in-car minders.
Experts believe early adopters of the technology will
include ride-hailing services seeking to maximize paying
passengers while eliminating paid backups traveling with them.
The race to develop autonomous vehicles includes such global
automakers as General Motors and technology giants like
Alphabet Inc's Waymo unit. If they are ready to deploy
the remote monitor technology by April, it would be the first
time they could test their cars on public roads in the state
without physical drivers present.
The remote control technology, already used by NASA and the
military, is seen as a way to more quickly usher in the
commercial rollout of self-driving cars. The new regulations are
expected to be approved later this month, and take effect in
April after a month-long public notice period.
Companies like Nissan, Waymo and startups Zoox,
Phantom Auto and Starsky Robotics have been working on the
technology, which allows for a remote operator to take control
of a vehicle if the underlying autonomous system inside the car
encounters problems, known in the industry as difficult-to-solve
"We think we have the ultimate backup system - which is a
human," said Elliot Katz, co-founder of Phantom Auto, which last
month at the CES technology conference demonstrated how cars
driving in Las Vegas could be remotely controlled from Mountain
View, California, over 500 miles away.
The presence of a remote operator also helps companies
reassure lawmakers and the public, said Katz, who said he
expected companies to deploy such technology on California roads
soon after April.
Getting rid entirely of drivers capable of taking the wheel
in case of problems has concerned some lawmakers. U.S. Senators
Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Blumenthal of
Connecticut have questioned the safeguards in an autonomous
vehicle bill currently stalled in the Senate.
During a January Senate hearing, Zoox Chief Executive
Officer Tim Kentley-Klay testified that "teleoperations"
technology would play a role in the overall system of the
Silicon Valley startup.
"When your model is to have autonomous vehicles deployed as
a for-hire service in cities, you are still going to need a
command center in that city that has a human-in-the-loop
oversight of the fleet, both to deal with vehicles if they have
an issue but also to deal with customers if they need help,"
The new regulations are expected to be approved on Feb 26 by
California's legal compliance agency, with the DMV then opening
a 30-day public notice period beginning March 1.
During that period, companies planning to test would prepare
their applications, with the first permits potentially being
issued on April 2, DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez told
"It will be interesting to see which manufacturer is the
first," she added.
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage. Editing by Joe White and David
First Published: 2018-02-23 19:58:28
Updated 2018-02-23 20:06:51
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