Waymo Gets New California Permit To Test Driverless Cars Without Drivers

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Waymo has now been granted permission by the California DMV to begin completely driver-free testing of its autonomous vehicles on public roads in California. For the time being, a “fleet” of around 36 vehicles is allowed by the permit and those are limited to operations in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Sunnyvale, located in Santa Clara County. As per state laws, the tests also come with several stipulations. The majority of those have likely already been met by the company, where possible in advance to receiving the permit. For example, the vehicles themselves are required to meet the standards to qualify for SAE Level 4 or 5 operation and must prove that each is insured or bonded by a policy equaling at least $5 million. What’s more, they must have already undergone testing in conditions that simulate the test area prior to the start of the new trials.

In addition, the local authorities and other government offices in the test areas will need to be notified of the specifics of the testing as well as provided with a ‘Law Enforcement Interaction Plan’. Which will act as a guide for law enforcement agencies and first responders with regard to interactions between themselves and the self-driving vehicles in case any incidents do arise. Finally, trained remote operators must be tested before taking part in the required active continuous monitoring of each vehicle and the vehicles themselves need to enable two-way communications between passengers and operators. The operators must further submit a report on any collision where a driverless vehicle is involved and have only 10 days to submit those while a full annual report detailing system disengagements is required as well.

Background: As noted by the DMV, California regulations only opened up the possibility of completely driverless vehicles as of April 2018 but driver-assisted variations have been on the roads in the state since 2014. However, with a grand total of more than 10 million test miles under its belt, Waymo just happens to be the first in the state to receive a permit. That’s hardly surprising, although there are said to be around 60 manufacturers operating autonomous tests in California. Waymo’s multi-state testing has been ongoing since the regulations in each of its test areas allowed for those to commence and have encompassed a broad range of purposes. Among other recent achievements, the company also became the first to begin commercialization of autonomous ride-sharing business models in Phoenix.


Impact: Setting aside at least one well-publicized accident which ultimately proved to be the fault of a test driver who inadvertently deactivated the AI driver by mistake, the newly granted permit seems to set Waymo’s path forward with virtually no competition. Perhaps more importantly, the new permit helps the company to continue the currently used split testing method. More precisely, Waymo is taking advantage of state-level regulations that are already in place to test separate aspects of the business in tandem. That wouldn’t necessarily be possible if it were to, for example, test all of its vehicle’s systems, starting at the same time, and in one local area, city, or state. By testing in separation, Waymo is able to move forward across the required stages all at the same time, speeding up the development process.