It’s been nearly a month since the California Department of Motor Vehicles began offering permits to test truly driver-free autonomous cars on public roads, but so far the number of human being-free miles traveled by robot vehicles in the state is zero.
Four weeks ago, the DMV reported that a single unidentified company had applied for a permit. Since then the application has lingered in limbo because the state requires additional information which the inquiring party hasn’t yet provided.
DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez tells Curbed SF that now the department is reviewing a second application from a different autonomous car company, but that there are still zero permits issued thus far:
Two companies have applied for driverless testing permits. The first applicant received a letter on April 12, explaining their application was not complete and the information needed to complete it. The second applicant received a letter on April 23 explaining their application is complete and the DMV will begin reviewing the application. Once a permit is issued, the permit holder’s name will be added to the autonomous vehicle website.
The DMV will either approve the April 23 application or request more information within 10 days. However, Gonzalez cautions that “there is not a timeline on when the DMV approves a permit after receiving a complete application.”
In all, 50 companies have permits to test driverless cars on California public roads, but all of them presently require human safety drivers behind the wheel.
Tech capable of navigating most road conditions without human help has existed for years, but it’s unclear to the public whether it’s safe or practical. The Society of Automotive Engineers [SAE] dubs such programs “High Automation,” the fourth step in SAE’s five-tier ranking:
[High Automation cars] can operate without human input or oversight, but only under select conditions defined by factors such as road type or geographic area. In a shared car restricted to a defined area, there may not be any [need for driver input].
But in a privately owned Level 4 car, the driver might manage all driving duties on surface streets then become a passenger as the car enters a highway. Example: Google’s now-defunct Firefly pod-car prototype, which had neither pedals nor a steering wheel and was restricted to a top speed of 25 mph.
In related and surreal news, it appears that an electric scooter may have collided with a self-driving car in North Beach in March.
A collision report filed March 29 by the General Motors-owned autonomous car company Cruise says:
A Cruise autonomous vehicle (‘’Cruise AV’’), was involved in a collision while operating in conventional mode, on southbound Powell Street at the intersection with Vallejo Street. As the Cruise AV was stopped at the four-way stop, a scooter turning right onto Powell from westbound Vallejo lost control and collided with the Cruise AV, damaging the left side view mirror.
Unfortunately—or perhaps mercifully—it’s not clear from the report whether this was an e-scooter or the old fashioned kind, although the date of the incident makes the possibility of a literal collision between anxiety-inducing SF tech experiments seem very likely.
No one was hurt, except perhaps those suffering even more pronounced future shock.