News

No drivers needed for self-driving cars

City officials wary about new test phase for autonomous vehicles

Self-driving cars have been navigating Mountain View's streets for years, but there's always been a catch. Up till now, the robo-cars have always had a human sitting in the driver's seat, ready to take the wheel if the autonomous systems were to fail.

But that will soon be changing. Starting this month, state regulators will begin allowing autonomous vehicles to drive on public roads on their own, without anyone behind the wheel. In other words, driverless cars will soon be truly driverless.

The change has big implications for Mountain View, home to 19 companies developing self-driving technology, some of which are routinely test-driving on its streets. The new testing phase unleashes a bevy of new questions and concerns for Mountain View officials, who acknowledge they have largely taken a backseat on the technology's impacts up to this point.

"There's a paradigm shift happening right now, but we don't know where this is going to land," said Alex Andrade, Mountain View's economic development director. "Silicon Valley is an environment where failure isn't frowned upon. But when we're talking about potential fatalities, that's different."

Those watching the surging autonomous-vehicle industry surely had Monday, April 2, circled on their calendars, when the California Department of Motor Vehicles was scheduled to start allowing the new driverless testing.

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The new phase would still require companies to have human monitors keeping an eye on their self-piloted vehicles, which could be done from a remote computer terminal. These remote monitors are supposed to take manual control of a vehicle if a problem occurs. There is no specified limit on the number of cars that can be simultaneously monitored by one person, according to DMV officials. This has led consumer advocates to warn that the loosened rules will make safeguards for autonomous vehicles into a "deadly video game."

In another big change, the DMV will also allow approved companies to begin offering rides in autonomous vehicles to regular consumers. At this point, the new regulations prohibit companies from charging riders a fee, like a taxi service would. If companies wanted to give someone a free ride, perhaps as a way to introduce the technology to the public, that would be allowed.

But the response from the 52 registered autonomous-vehicle companies has been muted so far. As of this week, DMV officials said they had only received one application for this new testing phase. They won't reveal which company until they have finished reviewing the application, which could take up to 10 days.

Out of the 19 registered autonomous vehicle firms with offices in Mountain View, seven of them have contact information on file with city officials. The Voice reached out all of them to ask about their plans for this next test phase.

Only two companies responded. A spokesman for the local Honda R&D office said the company will not be testing on public roads at this time. Google's self-driving offshoot, Waymo, responded with a prepared statement, saying the company intends to eventually deploy this technology, but declined to indicate when.

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Mountain View officials also appear to also be in the dark on what to expect. Self-driving cars have been operating on city streets for more than four years, but regulations and safety measures have largely been left to state authorities. Up to this point, city officials' main engagement has been to aid the companies in finding office space or other resources they needed, Andrade said.

In that time, problems have been rare. In 2015, a Mountain View police officer pulled over a slow-moving Google self-driving car to issue a verbal warning about blocking traffic, an incident that generated international headlines.

The most alarming news emerged just in recent days. On March 23, a Tesla Model X reportedly operating in the company's semi-autonomous Autopilot mode crashed into a road barrier on Highway 101 in Mountain View, killing the driver. The fatal crash came just days after an Uber self-driving vehicle hit and killed a woman who was crossing a street at night in Tempe, Arizona.

Mayor Lenny Siegel said he expects a bit of a public wake-up call to come soon, as more unoccupied autonomous vehicles are spotted driving around town. The technology is hardly flawless, he said. He observes the limitations first-hand every time a Waymo car turns onto his street in Old Mountain View. His street is apparently too narrow for the autopilot systems to navigate, and he said he has watched as the vehicles stall in the middle of the street for no apparent reason.

In an interview with the Voice, Siegel listed off the numerous questions he has about this new phase of autonomous vehicle testing. Can these vehicles safely maneuver around construction zones, pedestrians or bicyclists? How many self-driving vehicles can one remote employee track simultaneously? How will these vehicles change traffic patterns for driving and parking?

Mountain View seems destined to be a "laboratory" to test out these issues, he said. While it may be true that self-driving cars can reduce overall traffic accidents, it is still reasonable to be concerned about the safety measures underpinning the technology, he said.

"There's huge excitement from the companies, the public and legislators, and they're rushing ahead, but they're not giving us the opportunity to address the local issues that might arise," he said. "I think once we have cars without humans, and someone gets hurt, people are going to ask me why I didn't do something about it."

Under the new testing rules, companies are obligated to provide a variety of information to local authorities before they can put driverless vehicles on the road. This includes specifics on the number of vehicles as well as boundaries and times for when the vehicles will be on the road.

City Manager Dan Rich said Mountain View has not received this information from any companies.

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No drivers needed for self-driving cars

City officials wary about new test phase for autonomous vehicles

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 6, 2018, 12:18 pm

Self-driving cars have been navigating Mountain View's streets for years, but there's always been a catch. Up till now, the robo-cars have always had a human sitting in the driver's seat, ready to take the wheel if the autonomous systems were to fail.

But that will soon be changing. Starting this month, state regulators will begin allowing autonomous vehicles to drive on public roads on their own, without anyone behind the wheel. In other words, driverless cars will soon be truly driverless.

The change has big implications for Mountain View, home to 19 companies developing self-driving technology, some of which are routinely test-driving on its streets. The new testing phase unleashes a bevy of new questions and concerns for Mountain View officials, who acknowledge they have largely taken a backseat on the technology's impacts up to this point.

"There's a paradigm shift happening right now, but we don't know where this is going to land," said Alex Andrade, Mountain View's economic development director. "Silicon Valley is an environment where failure isn't frowned upon. But when we're talking about potential fatalities, that's different."

Those watching the surging autonomous-vehicle industry surely had Monday, April 2, circled on their calendars, when the California Department of Motor Vehicles was scheduled to start allowing the new driverless testing.

The new phase would still require companies to have human monitors keeping an eye on their self-piloted vehicles, which could be done from a remote computer terminal. These remote monitors are supposed to take manual control of a vehicle if a problem occurs. There is no specified limit on the number of cars that can be simultaneously monitored by one person, according to DMV officials. This has led consumer advocates to warn that the loosened rules will make safeguards for autonomous vehicles into a "deadly video game."

In another big change, the DMV will also allow approved companies to begin offering rides in autonomous vehicles to regular consumers. At this point, the new regulations prohibit companies from charging riders a fee, like a taxi service would. If companies wanted to give someone a free ride, perhaps as a way to introduce the technology to the public, that would be allowed.

But the response from the 52 registered autonomous-vehicle companies has been muted so far. As of this week, DMV officials said they had only received one application for this new testing phase. They won't reveal which company until they have finished reviewing the application, which could take up to 10 days.

Out of the 19 registered autonomous vehicle firms with offices in Mountain View, seven of them have contact information on file with city officials. The Voice reached out all of them to ask about their plans for this next test phase.

Only two companies responded. A spokesman for the local Honda R&D office said the company will not be testing on public roads at this time. Google's self-driving offshoot, Waymo, responded with a prepared statement, saying the company intends to eventually deploy this technology, but declined to indicate when.

Mountain View officials also appear to also be in the dark on what to expect. Self-driving cars have been operating on city streets for more than four years, but regulations and safety measures have largely been left to state authorities. Up to this point, city officials' main engagement has been to aid the companies in finding office space or other resources they needed, Andrade said.

In that time, problems have been rare. In 2015, a Mountain View police officer pulled over a slow-moving Google self-driving car to issue a verbal warning about blocking traffic, an incident that generated international headlines.

The most alarming news emerged just in recent days. On March 23, a Tesla Model X reportedly operating in the company's semi-autonomous Autopilot mode crashed into a road barrier on Highway 101 in Mountain View, killing the driver. The fatal crash came just days after an Uber self-driving vehicle hit and killed a woman who was crossing a street at night in Tempe, Arizona.

Mayor Lenny Siegel said he expects a bit of a public wake-up call to come soon, as more unoccupied autonomous vehicles are spotted driving around town. The technology is hardly flawless, he said. He observes the limitations first-hand every time a Waymo car turns onto his street in Old Mountain View. His street is apparently too narrow for the autopilot systems to navigate, and he said he has watched as the vehicles stall in the middle of the street for no apparent reason.

In an interview with the Voice, Siegel listed off the numerous questions he has about this new phase of autonomous vehicle testing. Can these vehicles safely maneuver around construction zones, pedestrians or bicyclists? How many self-driving vehicles can one remote employee track simultaneously? How will these vehicles change traffic patterns for driving and parking?

Mountain View seems destined to be a "laboratory" to test out these issues, he said. While it may be true that self-driving cars can reduce overall traffic accidents, it is still reasonable to be concerned about the safety measures underpinning the technology, he said.

"There's huge excitement from the companies, the public and legislators, and they're rushing ahead, but they're not giving us the opportunity to address the local issues that might arise," he said. "I think once we have cars without humans, and someone gets hurt, people are going to ask me why I didn't do something about it."

Under the new testing rules, companies are obligated to provide a variety of information to local authorities before they can put driverless vehicles on the road. This includes specifics on the number of vehicles as well as boundaries and times for when the vehicles will be on the road.

City Manager Dan Rich said Mountain View has not received this information from any companies.

Comments

resident
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2018 at 3:32 pm
resident, Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2018 at 3:32 pm
13 people like this

News reports say that the robot cars use much different technologies with much different capabilities. Waymo has insisted that they would not have killed that pedestrian in Arizona that was killed by an Uber robot car. Whatever guidelines the government decides on must specify some minimum safety levels for these robot cars and each company must demonstrate that their technology can meet these requirements. Right now, we seem to have a free-for-all that is only regulated by civil liability (families of the victims sue the companies after each fatality).


Dave
The Crossings
on Apr 6, 2018 at 6:29 pm
Dave, The Crossings
on Apr 6, 2018 at 6:29 pm
16 people like this

I trust these cars about 1000 times more than your average texting, distracted, sleepy, drunk driver.


Jes' Sayin'
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2018 at 11:38 pm
Jes' Sayin', Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2018 at 11:38 pm
7 people like this

We should really outlaw these in Mountain View. Our streets are much too busy. Go start with some desert town and perfect things there first. This is insanity. Of course, no one will listen.


Haha
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2018 at 6:51 am
Haha, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2018 at 6:51 am
24 people like this

They're new and scary to me so I want them banned. LOL, JK!

I like the fact that they have been driving around MV for years and years now with only a few accidents in all those years, and I'm not sure any of them were proven to be the fault of the auto-driver, maybe 1, early on, maybe(?). This is something the press would scream about as well, so it's not like they have been covering up accidents. They love to report it.

Now, contrast that with how many people have LITERALLY been KILLED by non-autonomous cars and you will have the LOGICAL answer on what/who should be banned from the roads, but only if you're primary motivation for banning certain road users is public safety.


MV Reader
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2018 at 8:59 am
MV Reader, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2018 at 8:59 am
30 people like this

Heck, if people were *really* serious about making the roadways safer, they'd increase the minimum driving age to 25.

The average teen driver is considerably more dangerous than one of Waymo's vehicles.


PA Resident
another community
on Apr 7, 2018 at 9:03 am
PA Resident, another community
on Apr 7, 2018 at 9:03 am
9 people like this

What I want to know is whether we will be aware if there is a person in a car or if it is devoid of human life.

The reason being is say if there is a fiery crash somewhere, does someone have to put their life in danger to rescue the occupant of a car which is empty?

This is a serious question particularly in light of the Tesla crash on 101/85 recently.


Anna leave the dart alone!
Rengstorff Park
on Apr 8, 2018 at 3:00 am
Anna leave the dart alone!, Rengstorff Park
on Apr 8, 2018 at 3:00 am
3 people like this

Thank you Siegal for alerting what you can! I am not against the further development of self driving cars. However I don't see the benefit of all the companies condensed in one area?

I live right by the 101 where the deadly tesla accident occurred. I also lost a father too early thanks to America's original capitalist deadly write off (tobacco). Mountain view keeps getting worse with this denial they call innovation. It's just like watching a car accident itself... I am personally trying to save anything to forever leave this town. Please don't take this as a negative but the only self interested endeavours of "nerds" is pervasive and has destroyed what character mountain view has left. And to the very scared I prefer autonomous drivers...good to know driving is not one of your talents. I feel safer in my boyfriend's 1973 dart.. However when it comes to me opening the door of the built to last mobile with out the help of an angry working class man...thats a different story lol!


Frank
another community
on Apr 9, 2018 at 4:16 pm
Frank, another community
on Apr 9, 2018 at 4:16 pm
3 people like this

There's one aspect which no-one has really talked about. When human drivers know there are driverless vehicles, they will be aware that the vehicle must drive conservatively and obey traffic laws. There will be no human driver to upset, so they'll take more risks in cutting off that car, tailgating it, etc. knowing the vehicle will not retaliate. For example, why would a driver wait in a long line of driverless cars (or one with a driverless car up front) in a turn lane when they can just zoom ahead in the other lane and cut the cars off, jumping in the lane at the last minute? Nobody's going to get upset, right? The driverless car will have to let him in, right? So why not? They'll exploit that.

This is going to cause accidents with driverless vehicles or innocent drivers that are close to the two cars.

We're not going to have the safest driving until we have all driverless vehicles that all play by the rules and there are no jerks left on the road.


Darin
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2018 at 2:26 pm
Darin, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2018 at 2:26 pm
3 people like this

@Frank

I've read that people are already "testing" the self-driving cars that are on the road. It's something they should already be programmed to handle safely.


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