California cities should be the first to have a taxi service with autonomous cars. The Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates public services in the Pacific Coast State, has authorized the operation of robot taxis. California was one of the first places to allow tests with autonomous vehicles, but until now, it had not allowed their commercial use. The regulatory agency had been studying the rules for regulating service for years.
The state is known for having a series of rules and requirements to authorize experiments with this new technology. Those in charge of the autonomous cars need licenses for each type of test and are obliged to provide authorities with information such as distances traveled, accidents, frequency with which safety drivers must take control of cars, among others.
Currently, about 60 companies are licensed to test using safety drivers and five have additional authorization to use fully autonomous vehicles on the streets. One of them, Waymo , which belongs to Alphabet (Google’s owner), recently started offering driverless car trips to members of its Waymo One service in Phoenix, Arizona. Other companies, such as Lyft, Aptiv and Motional have autonomous cars in circulation in Las Vegas and Nevada, and Cruise, which belongs to General Motors, have them in San Francisco – virtually all of them are testing or delivering, without transporting people.
This concentration of companies testing their models in Phoenix and Las Vegas is no accident. These are flat cities in regions where the climate is drier and more stable, which is an advantage. San Francisco, for example, has more complex conditions. Most tests are performed in limited areas. In New York, six cars are tested inside an industrial complex on the outskirts of the city.
In addition to the United States, China and Germany are the leading countries in the technological race for autonomous vehicles. If the United States has the largest fleet in circulation, almost 1,500, Germany is ahead in terms of regulation. First country to authorize car traffic level 3 (capable of accelerating, decelerating, overtaking and maneuvering in incidents or congestion without human intervention) on its roads in 2017, it will also be the first to regulate level 4 vehicles, in which the system assumes virtually all driver functions safely.
Despite the growing fleet of cars being tested and predictions that before the end of the next decade we will be able to read or work while on the move, there are still many gaps to fill. There is still no specific traffic legislation, and legal questions remain unanswered. The central question is: whose responsibility is it in case of accidents?
The death of a cyclist, run over by an autonomous Uber car during tests in Arizona, even with a security driver, still raises controversy. Uber suspended the project for months, and recently sold it to startup Aurora Innovation.
There are those who maintain that autonomous cars will be safer, equipped with more advanced systems and capable of strictly following laws and signs, in addition to communicating with other vehicles, but they will not necessarily run without the presence of a driver. They will be similar to airplanes, which fly most of the time on autopilot, but do not dispense with human presence. There are still many questions to be addressed for autonomous driving to get established – which shows us that the major issues surrounding technology are not technical, but social and cultural.