No secrets in California’s self driving car race

by Steve Blum • , ,

Autonomous cars will be networked cars, manufacturers will maintain constant contact, and make themselves and onboard data available to the cops. That’s one of the takeaways from a draft set of new rules for testing them on California’s public streets that was published by the department of motor vehicles. If – when – manufacturers get to the point that self-driving vehicles can be tested on the open road without someone on standby in the driver’s seat, or even without a steering wheel or other old school controls, then they’ll have to make sure that…

There is a communication link between the vehicle and the remote operator to provide information on the vehicle’s location and status and allow two-way communication between the remote operator and any passengers if the vehicle experiences any failures that would endanger the safety of the vehicle’s passengers or other road users, or otherwise prevent the vehicle from functioning as intended, while operating without a driver. The certification shall include:
(A) That the manufacturer will continuously monitor the status of the vehicle and the two-way communication link while the vehicle is being operated without a driver;
(B) A description of how the manufacturer will monitor the communication link; and,
(C) An explanation of how all of the vehicles tested by the manufacturer will be monitored.

The two-way communication requirement would remain even when autonomous vehicles go into actual service. Police would also have to be able to get in touch with whoever is monitoring the vehicles remotely, and have access to a required on-board data recorder.

That requirement isn’t as Big Brother-ish as it might be – the black box would only has to hang onto data for 30 seconds before and 5 seconds after a crash. Of course, you don’t know in advance when the crash was coming, but even so there wouldn’t be a need to keep more than minute’s worth of data at any one time. But there’s nothing preventing car makers from keeping all the data collected or particularly limiting government access to it.

The DMV is taking comments on the draft rules, and will hold a workshop in Sacramento next week..