Google’s Driverless Cars Will Need A Steering Wheel After All

Google’s Driverless Cars Will Need A Steering Wheel After All
google_car by sam_churchill on 2012-05-21 08:33:10

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has decided that it won’t allow autonomous cars to drive on public roads unless there is a ‘natural person’ who is able to take over the controls, in a new rule aimed squarely at Google’s driverless cars. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has said that it will install steering wheels and pedals in the 100 prototype cars that are coming out soon to comply with the new law, reports Alistair Barr for The Wall Street Journal.

People are likely to intervene when they’re least effective

While Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) engineers are probably annoyed at the need for an ad hoc steering system, the California DMV’s rules aren’t a major setback and Google expects to keep to its original schedule. Under the DMV rules a ‘natural person’ has to be at the wheel paying attention in case he or she needs to take over control of the car. Realistically, this sounds like a terrible solution. Most of the time people will let the driverless car do its thing (stay under 25 mph and drive very conservatively), only intervening in a panic when their reflexes and decision making are most likely to be worse than a well-programmed machines. While California wants people involved at critical moments on the road, the Federal government is moving in the opposite direction.

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The new rules also show that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) still has a long way to go before convincing people to accept autonomous robots in their everyday life. There are plans underway for ‘normal Californians,’ which probably means people who don’t work at Google or believe in the singularity, to ride in the driverless cars, but the biggest test will be how long the cars can go without getting into an accident.

Google’s driverless car: Person behind the wheel is in control, technically

While not exactly related to driverless cars, it is funny that the California DMV rules stipulate that a ‘natural person’ either driving or ready to take over. There had been some questions about who would be legally responsible in case of an accident or moving violation, and while Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) was quick to accept responsibility it sounds like the DMV isn’t interested in writing tickets to a ‘corporate person’. This setup simplifies the law by treating the computer under the hood like cruise control or any other convenience – whoever is at the wheel is expected to be in control of the vehicle.

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