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Fully Autonomous Driving Takes This Big Step In California


February 27, 2018…

California state regulators on Monday approved testing and deployment regulations for autonomous cars without a human backup driver, allowing companies like General Motors (GM), Alphabet (GOOGL)-owned Waymo and Tesla (TSLA) to fast-track the commercialization of the technology in the most populous state.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles will post a public notice of that approval on its website on March 2, a month before permits start to be issued, reports said.

The new rules require self-driving test cars on public roads to be monitored by a remote operator at all times. That operator must be able to take over control as needed and communicate with police and passengers in an emergency.

Automakers also must provide an "interaction plan" instructing law enforcement and first responders "on how to interact with the vehicle in emergency and traffic enforcement situations."

California is a hotbed for the testing of automated-driving technology. In January, the state DMV released its 2017 annual report compiling data from companies that test self-driving cars in the state. However, those test cars had backup or safety drivers.

The data showed Waymo continues to hold a clear lead but GM's Cruise Automation is catching up fast, with both companies logging the most autonomous test miles in 2017. Both Waymo and GM improved their disengagement rate — the frequency at which a human driver had to take over the controls of the driverless cars — with Cruise's data showing vast improvement.

The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog claimed the new rules threaten public safety. It argued that mandatory disengagement reports filed with the California DMV "show the self-driving technology is not safe enough to be deployed without a human driver in the car capable of taking control when necessary."

On Tuesday, Ford Motor (F) announced it is laying down a footprint for its autonomous-vehicle business in the congested streets of Miami and Miami Beach.

Initially, Ford will conduct pilot programs with Domino's Pizza (DPZ) and the delivery startup Postmates. While those test deliveries are not expected to be self-driving at first, Ford expects that lessons from "this customer experience research will be applied to the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that we plan to launch in 2021,"  Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president of autonomous vehicles wrote Tuesday in a Medium blog post.

Ford also will set up its first autonomous fleet-management terminal in Miami and work closely with local dealers to integrate their operations into its self-driving service.

"Before thousands of self-driving vehicles can hit the streets, we have to be prepared to manage large, high-tech fleets efficiently, and the steps we're taking in Miami represent a significant stride in that process," Marakby added.

Shares of GM sank 3.3% on the stock market today, Alphabet gave up 2.3%, Tesla dropped 1.8% and Ford retreated 2.5%.

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