Google's driverless car that eschews a steering wheel and pedals has hit a legal road bump in California.
The state's Department of Motor Vehicles has issued new regulations, due to kick in on September 16, that insist all robot cars come equipped with a steering wheel and pedals in case the vehicle's computer literally crashes.
In addition, the car's manufacturer must ensure each and every autonomous car on the state's roads has insurance cover to the tune of $5m per car. The regulations state this insurance can't just be cash the company stumps up, but must come from a commercial firm.
Google's existing fleet of computer-controlled cars with wheels and pedals has been driving along the roads of America for years now. The web giant says the cars have completed over a million kilometres of autonomous travel with nary an accident. There's always someone behind the wheel, however, just in case, and to avoid freaking out other drivers.
But the Chocolate Factory's next step is to build a 100-strong fleet of jelly-mold robot cars that come without a steering wheel or pedals. The prototypes are two-seaters, completely under computer control, limited to 25mph, and guaranteed to send Jeremy Clarkson into frothing paroxysms of rage.
California's new rules would mean these prototypes will be confined to test tracks from now on – and are a major road block in Google's plans to expand the autonomous vehicle market in its home state. But the firm says it will play by the rules and alter its design.
"During our testing we are equipping the vehicles with manual controls such as a steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator pedal," a Google spokesperson told the Register. "With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features, while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary."
Well-placed sources tell El Reg that California's DMV is considering new regulations that would allow for an exclusively computer-controller car. These changes are expected to become public later this year and will set the specifications of cars that require no user control at all.
Presumably the notoriously hard-to-please DMV will no doubt insist on evidence of some pretty serious testing before such an operating license will be given. But if anyone's got such evidence, it's Google. ®