If self-driving cars are indeed the future, then the future is now. California will soon allow tech companies and vehicle manufacturers to test driverless cars on public roads for the first time.
The state's Department of Motor Vehicles made the announcement on Monday, per CNET. Up until now, it was required for a driver to be in the autonomous car during testing. "This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California," DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. "Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California."
A public notice regarding the driverless testing will go up on the DMV’s website on March 2nd, exactly one month before the permits are issued on April 2nd. Companies interested can apply for three types of permits: testing with a safety driver, driverless testing, and deployment. But before they try and get their Fast and Furious on, the new regulations will not cover testings of autonomous trucks and other commercial vehicles.
With the permit, the DMV requires the car manufacturers to maintain communication between the vehicle and the remote operator, as well as law enforcement officials. The safety precautions don't stop there. CNET reports the cars will also be "required to detect and defend themselves from cyberattacks" and "will need to be able to transmit vehicle owner and operator information in the event of a crash."
California is the perfect place for this new level of testing, since many companies that have previously tested self-driving cars are headquartered there. Google began its self-driving car project in 2009 and confirmed its first "fully driverless ride" took place in Austin, Texas in 2016. A few months later, a high-tech driverless SUV from Apple was seen cruising around Silicon Valley. Competitors Lyft, Waymo and Uber have also tested out their own autonomous cars.
Some experts predict that 95% of new vehicles sold will be driverless by 2040.