Apple, Uber, Tesla Ask California To Revise Rules For Self-Driving Cars

Image courtesy of Waymo

Now that California has proposed rules intended to make it easier for tech companies to test self-driving vehicles on public streets, those companies are calling on the state to make additional changes that would further favor the industry.

Tesla, Apple, Uber, and other companies delving into the self-driving vehicle market asked the California DMV to revise its proposals related to the type of vehicles allowed under the self-driving programs and reporting systems.

The proposed rules require that autonomous vehicle testers include data on the times a car’s self-driving mechanisms are turned off, or disengaged, and put under the control of a human driver. The idea is that this will provide some transparency about the amount of time these cars spend actually driving themselves.

However, in its letter [PDF] to the DMV, Apple argues that this requirement is too strict and that it doesn’t provide the public an accurate metric to consider.

Apple, which is reportedly prepping to begin testing self-driving tech, lists a number of situations where autonomous systems might be turned off that shouldn’t be factored into these reports.

For example, if a system is turned off so that the driver can navigate a construction zone; or when a driver uses their discretion to manually disengage the system because of a possible threat from an approaching vehicle.

The letter even suggests that system errors or failures should not be included in these disengagement reports, unless they affect the safety of the vehicle.

In fact, Apple only wants to limit these reports to incidents where a driver has to assume control “to prevent a crash or traffic violation.”

Seeking to possibly test larger self-driving vehicles, Tesla asked [PDF] the DMV to revise a provision that would bar autonomous testing in vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds. Tesla contends this does not promote safety and stifles innovation.

The company also disagreed with a DMV proposal that prevents companies from selling test vehicles to anyone other than another company that is testing self-driving cars.

While this rule is intended to prevent prototype vehicles from making their way to the market, Tesla says that many of the cars it currently manufactures have the sensing and computational hardware necessary for full self-driving — they just haven’t had the features activated. As opposed to some cars with obvious mounted sensor rigs, the only difference between a self-driving Tesla and a Tesla you’d see at the mall parking lot is software.

Tesla says it should be able to sell test cars because it can “return the vehicles to production condition by re-loading production software… However, if such a vehicle has participated in any testing on public roads in California, the rule-making would prevent Tesla from ever being able to re-sell the vehicle.”

Uber, which has had a back-and-forth relationship with California when it comes to self-driving tests, is obviously hoping to have a fleet of self-driving cars to pick up paying customers, but the proposed rule would not allow Uber or anyone to charge for rides in test vehicles.

“Paying members of the public should have the opportunity to ride in autonomous test vehicles with drivers,” the company says [PDF]. “Having paying riders is an important part of testing… and the safety represents in the Department’s testing regulations are sufficient to keep passengers safe.”

Uber also takes issue with a provision that asks companies to coordinate tests with local law enforcement.

While it might be nice to give a heads up that driverless cars are going to be testing in the area, Uber believes it would not provide an accurate testing environment.

“The coordination requirement risks created a fractured and inefficient testing regime because local authorities have neither the guidance nor expertise to evaluate the technology.”

As for Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, the company asks [PDF] the DMV to provide clarity on what type of permit is required depending on whether or not a driver is present.

The company also suggests that the DMV revise its definition of “remote operator,” as the current provision does not recognize that functions of a remote operator can be preformed by multiple people.

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