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Transportation Government Technology

California Opens Driverless Car Competition With Testing Regulations 167

smaxp (2951795) writes "California just released rules for testing autonomous vehicles on California's roads and highways. Californians will soon be seeing more autonomous vehicles than just those built by the Google X labs. These vehicles offer great promise, such as freeing the driver's attention for productivity or leisure, better safety and less congestion. It will be a while, though, before we see these vehicles on the road. From the article: 'Getting started requires the RMV’s approval of testing under controlled circumstances prior to testing on public roads. The manufactures must insure the vehicles with a $5 million surety bond. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers need a permit and test drivers need a special license. The RMV will receive applications beginning on July 1, 2014, and the permits that are granted will be announced beginning on September 1, 2014.'"
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California Opens Driverless Car Competition With Testing Regulations

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  • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:11PM (#47071097)

    Autopilots in airplanes do not remove the pilot's requirement to pay attention to what is going on.

    Autonomous vehicles are being promoted for exactly their ability to allow the driver to do non-driving functions (like read, eat, nap, or other things). That's what they mean when they talk about increasing productivity of those who commute to work using one.

    I can tell you from much experience that autopilots are wonderful things,

    Yes, they are. But they are not intended to allow flight in close formation (like a string of autos on the freeway would be), or in close proximity to the ground*. These autopilots are intended for an environment where the closest thing to you is more than 500 feet away at least. And they will quite happily fly you into the ground when they fail. Or fly you to the point you stall and then fall to the ground.

    Here's just one example of how the autopilot can fail, even though the NTSB would call it pilot error (just like everything else, almost.) The Garmin G1000 with (mumble) 700 autopilot has a VS command. That's "vertical speed". You can tell the autopilot to climb at a set rate, say 500 fpm. If you forget to add power you may not be able to achieve a 500 fpm climb (or you may initially make it, but as you climb the performance decreases and you can't keep it) -- but the autopilot will keep trying. It will try to increase your angle of attack to get more lift so you can climb at the rate you've requested. It will keep trying so hard that it may cause your airspeed to drop below stall speed.

    Hello, Pilot, you are now in a full-on stall, probably about to enter a spin, maybe in IMC, and your autopilot has adjusted your elevator trim to full-up trying to do what you told it to do. It's your aircraft. HAND.

    It has, in it's data, the stall speeds for the aircraft it is in because it will display the critical speeds as flags on the airspeed indicator, so it could easily report the problem to the pilot. "Bong -- minimum airspeed reached, climb aborted." It does not. There is a recent article in Aviation Safety, I think it was, about a crash of a military version of a King Air in the mideast that did exactly that. The pilot was IFR and distracted and the aircraft stalled and then spun in.

    There is a very good reason that there are half a dozen (8 for the G1000, as I recall) or more ways of disabling the autopilot in an aircraft. They fail often enough, and in serious enough ways ("hey, let's run your elevator trim FULL UP for no reason at all, bud", e.g.) that it is important to be able to kill George immediately. And have multiple ways to kill him in case the first three didn't kill him well enough.

    You should probably not use aircraft autopilots as examples of robo-perfection.

    * Yes, there are cat III autopilots that will fly the aircraft onto the runway, or "auto-land". It takes specially certified equipment AND CREWS to do that. You aren't going to find many Joe Sixpacks out on a drive that could meet equivalent quals. And that G1000 I use as an example? The aircraft manual prohibits use of the autopilot below 800 AGL, as I recall.

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