Waymo Urges U.S. to 'Promptly' Remove Regulatory Barriers to Self-Driving Cars

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【Summary】On Thursday, Waymo urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to “promptly” remove regulatory barriers for cars without steering wheels and brake pedals. General Motors is also seeking permission to sell car without human controls.

Eric Walz    Oct 05, 2019 7:00 PM PT
Waymo Urges U.S. to 'Promptly' Remove Regulatory Barriers to Self-Driving Cars

Many tech industry experts believe that "over regulation stifles innovation." However, when it comes to self-driving cars, some regulation is needed to protect to public—but not too much as to hinder development. It's a bit of a dilemma, especially for Google's self driving program, which is now known as Waymo.

On Thursday, Waymo urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to "promptly" remove regulatory barriers for cars without steering wheels and brake pedals. General Motors is also seeking permission to sell car without human controls.

Currently automakers must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards for self-driving cars, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver is in command of the vehicle using traditional controls. 

These safety regulations were written assuming that a car wouldn't actually drive without a human behind the wheel. As autonomous driving progresses with more robust hardware, software and deep-learning algorithms, automakers, tech giants and startups are getting ready to remove human backup drivers from their vehicles. However, current regulations are making it difficult.

NHTSA has been grappling for more than three years with how to address those requirements, while filings from major companies this week shed light on complex issues surrounding testing, acquiring and evaluating fully self-driving vehicles.

"NHTSA should move promptly to remove barriers while ensuring safety," Waymo said in a letter posted on Thursday after the auto safety agency sought public comment in May "on the removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers to the safe introduction of automated driving systems."

NHTSA should first work on addressing those safety standards that assume a human is behind the wheel before revising rules to address alternative seating configurations, Waymo said.

That will "enable the timely deployment" of vehicles without manual controls, Waymo added.

General Motors wrote in its comments that "it is imperative that NHTSA continue to drive this critical dialogue with a sense of urgency so that the necessary regulatory evolution keeps pace with advancing technology."


General Motors is seeking permission to build autonomous cars without driver controls like this Chevy Bolt EV.

Lyft Inc and Honda Motor Co suggested to the agency that it could recognize self-driving cars as a separate vehicle class to address the rules written assuming humans would be behind the wheel.

NHTSA does not plan to begin writing rules on seating positions until March 2020. That involves revising crashworthiness standards to address occupants faced to the rear or side in fully self-driving cars. 

However, few vehicles feature rearward or side facing seating configurations, as Waymo pointed out. New seating positions "are not vital to the development or deployment of AVs," Waymo said, referring to its autonomous vehicles.

Comments filed by automakers suggest it could take the agency until at least 2025 to complete a comprehensive rewrite of various safety standards, which will push out the timeline for Waymo's planned robotaxi service, as well as for ride-hailing companies that are developing autonomous vehicles requiring no human driver that will one day pick up passengers.

NHTSA is also grappling with how and where to test self-driving cars to assure they are safe. The agency is considering whether to use simulations or external remote controls in testing. Many automakers plan remote controls to pilot autonomous vehicles through factories or onto trucks.

Remote teleoperations providers like startup Designated Driver are developing systems that allow a remote driver to take control of a driverless vehicle on-demand. If a autonomous vehicle encountered an obstacle such as a construction zone, a remote operator can step in to take over and navigate through it.

In January 2017, GM sought an exemption from NHTSA to deploy fully automated Chevy Bolt EVs without steering wheels before the end of 2019. Last month, GM's self-driving unit, Cruise, said it was delaying the commercial deployment of the cars past its target. 

One for the reasons is that the Bolt's EVs that Cruise planned to use are not permitted on public roads with the current regulations.

Ford Motor Co and GM both told the safety agency that their self-driving vehicles will initially not be able to respond to human commands, like "drive up onto a car hauler" or drive forward 10 feet (3 meters) and stop.

Ford said its self-driving car "will be responsible for deciding when, where and how it is appropriate to drive... We do not foresee interfaces beyond a method of giving the vehicle a destination."

New York City told NHTSA it should ensure self-driving cars meet baseline performance requirements including "a high rate of accurate pedestrian and cyclist detection from all angles, the application of the brakes in time to stop the vehicle prior to a collision, and the maintenance of safe and legal speeds." 

The city added that the testing would help weed out "under-developed systems."

Most of New York's baseline requirements that have already been achieved by Waymo. The company has driven over 10 million miles on pubic roads with its autonomous fleet without any major accidents. 

Waymo, after developing self-driving cars for over a decade, is  finally ready to remove human backup drivers. Now it's finding out that regulators haven't anticipated that the technology would advance so fast and that drivers could be replaced with computers as early as 2019. 

Now Waymo and the rest of the auto industry is waiting for the government to catch up and rewrite current regulations.

resource from: Reuters

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