Witnessing driverless cars on real roads seemed like a concept reserved for sci-fi films not too long ago, but the world's tech and automobile leaders have aggressively developed prototypes of such vehicles in the past few years. Shockingly, it appears that the technology is almost there, but what really stands in the way are regulations surrounding the widespread integration of autonomous vehicles into busy streets. Now it seems like those barriers are starting to fall, giving us a peek into what transportation inside a driverless car will be like.
As controlled testing of driverless cars continues, California has broken new ground by releasing the world's first regulations regarding their use alongside human-controlled vehicles. Although they purposefully exclude cars completely devoid of a steering wheel, they are a big step towards making the technology available for the general public. Previously, only employees of companies such as Google, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota were legally allowed to operate an autonomous vehicle. Now they'll be able to lease those cars out to public citizens, opening up the possibility for much more data gathering about performance and ability to navigate tricky traffic situations.
In addition to needing a regular driver's license, operators will also need and additional autonomous vehicle operator certificate issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This doesn't mean they'll be able to take their eyes off the road, though — operators must be ready to take over from the computer at any moment and are responsible for any traffic tickets or violations incurred.
On the manufacturer side, companies will have to inform drivers of any data collected that's not necessary for safe operation of the car itself. They'll also have to prove the car is capable of detecting cyberattacks and ceding control over to the driver if one happens. The rules published are just a draft, so they're not totally in effect yet, but they should be sometime in 2016.
So although we're not quite at the point of hopping to a driverless car that gets us where we need to go while we totally disengage from the road ourselves, this is a big step in that direction. Putting more and more autonomous vehicles on the streets in controlled, safe conditions allow manufacturers to gather more data and improve the technology such that a Minority Report-esque world isn't too far off at all. Let's just make sure we stay in the cars when they get here.
Cover image: Ed and Eddie via Flickr