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  |   Technology


Google Self-Driving Car’s AI System Could Qualify As ‘Driver’, US Regulator says

In a major breakthrough for Google’s self-driving cars project, the federal vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence (AI) system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the “driver” under federal law, Reuters reported.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told the tech giant its decision in a letter posted on the agency's website this week. According to the letter, NHTSA Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said that the self-driving car unit submitted a proposal requesting the agency to interpret a number of provisions in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) as they apply to Google’s described design for motor vehicles that it is in the process of developing and testing.

"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants," NHTSA's letter said.

"We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years."

Google, however, has expressed its concerns over safety as people could try to take control of the vehicle overriding the SDS (Self-Driving System).

“The company [Google] expresses concern that providing human occupants of the vehicle with mechanisms to control things like steering, acceleration, braking  or turn signals, or providing human occupants with information about vehicle operation controlled entirely by the SDS, could be detrimental to safety because the human occupants could attempt to override the SDS decisions," the NHTSA letter read.

It further pointed out that once the SDS is deemed to be the driver for purposes of a particular standard or test, "The next question is whether and how Google could certify that the SDS (self-driving system) meets a standard developed and designed to apply to a vehicle with a human driver," NHTSA said.

NHTSA said that it will also consider initiating suitable regulatory planning in this context. It emphasized that existing regulations requiring some auto safety equipment cannot be waived immediately.

Self-Driving Car - A Growing Industry

Leading auto giants and tech companies have ventured into building self-driving cars. The first name that comes to mind is of course Tesla. The automaker last year rolled out a software version – in beta phase – that enabled autopilot feature.

Earlier this week, Tesla said via blog post that since January, Tesla 7.1 software introduced several new Autopilot features to further enhance the convenience and safety of the driving experience. Of these, the most significant is the remote parking technology – Summon.

There have also been rumors about Apple’s electric self-driving car project. Codenamed “Project Titan”, there have been reports that the iPhone maker has apparently hired experts for the project that has a shipping date of 2019.

The companies involved in building self-driving cars complain that federal safety rules are impeding testing and eventual deployment of such vehicles. California has proposed draft rules that requires steering wheels and a licensed driver in all self-driving cars, Reuters reported.

The latest development in this context – the NHSTA agreeing that Google car’s artificial intelligence system could be considered the “driver” under federal law – is major step that could benefit other companies in this race as well.

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