Google Says California Legislators Could Drive Away Robotic Cars

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

    A Google rep tells an Assembly committee that if California passes a bill that removes the ability to have driverless cars eventually, the state is telling technology providers to take autonomous cars elsewhere.

    During his testimony Monday, a Google representative said if California legislators amend a proposed driverless car bill to effectively forbid their “driverlessness,” the state will be telling autonomous car technology to get out of town.

    Authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the bill — SB 1298 –aims to establish safety and performance standards for cars operated by computers and not people on California roads and highways. The California Assembly’s Transportation Committee discussed the bill today, during which several members expressed concerns over liability issues and fear that the bill doesn’t provide enough oversight to guarantee the safety of truly driverless cars. Legislators will continue discussion regarding these issues this week.

    The proposed bill currently requires a licensed driver to be present in the car in case of a technology malfunction, but also outlines a process that would eventually allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to decide if and when robotic cars might be allowed to run without a human present. Jon Ross, who represented Google, said this is 75 percent of what companies — like the California-based Google — want to achieve. With Nevada and Florida having already approved similar laws that include the eventual possibility of driverless cars, Ross said California would be sending the wrong message if it stepped back from that framework.

    “We fear the message is ‘not here — we want you to do this somewhere else’,” he said.

    The committee’s suggested amendments would eliminate the bill’s “path to driverlessness.” Committee members said companies like Google should come back to the legislature with better testing data before lawmakers agree to put driverless cars on the road.

    “Successful testing and operation of this technology with drivers behind the wheel will no doubt prepare the public for the eventual driverless operation of autonomous vehicles,” the bill’s analysis reads. “Once assured that these vehicles can safely drive themselves, a future legislature will almost certainly want to provide statutory authorization for driverless operation. At this point, however, that assurance has not been achieved.”

    Other amendments included the establishment of testing standards and a requirement that companies that operate the car to disclose all the data that is gathered to operate the car.

    Consumer Watchdog, which has long dogged Google on its data gathering practices, asked the committee to include language restricting the operators of the robotic cars to only gathering data that is necessary to run the car. The bill’s analysis said it was difficult to define what data is necessary to run the car, but called for companies to disclose all information gathered.

    If the bill passes the Transportation Committee, it will most likely go onto the Appropriations Committee before hitting the Assembly floor. The Senate passed the bill last month, with a 73-0 vote.

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