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Consumer Watchdog Calls on DMV to Open Robot Car Application Process to Public after Waymo Application Is Deemed Ready for Review

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 02:49

LOS ANGELES, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on the Department of Motor Vehicles to open its application process for granting permits to test driverless robot cars to the public as the department confirmed an applicant had provided all the information necessary to review the application.

The department would not identify the applicant, but Consumer Watchdog learned it was Waymo, originally Google’s autonomous car unit. A DMV spokesperson would not specify a timeframe but estimated it would take at least some weeks before a final decision is made on the application.

Waymo’s bid for a permit is the second to be filed. The first application – from a still unknown company – was deemed insufficient and DMV asked for more data.

“This should be a completely public process. The companies want to use our public roads as laboratories and us as human guinea pigs. There should be complete transparency about what’s happening,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project director. “Waymo’s application, as well as the insufficient one from the unknown company, should be posted on the web so the public can see what’s going on and comment.”

Simpson added: “If Waymo’s robot technology is so good, they should have nothing to hide. If the DMV doesn’t post the application, Waymo should.”

New regulations went into effect April 2, that now allow companies to apply to test autonomous vehicles without a driver. The DMV has 10 days to decide if an application is complete. If it is, the department then reviews the information to decide whether to grant a permit.

Waymo’s application is the first the DMV has deemed ready to undergo the review process. One company applied for a permit on April 2, a DMV spokesman said, but the DMV deemed this application incomplete on April 12 and asked for more information.

Consumer Watchdog is concerned about the DMV’s new regulations that will permit autonomous vehicles on public roads without test drivers. Information in reports required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles from companies testing robot cars with backup safety drivers on the state’s public roads reveal that robot car technologies are not sophisticated enough to deal with many of the simple problems humans encounter while driving every day, Consumer Watchdog said.

The reports, released by companies such as Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company) and GM Cruise, contain specific data showing reasons their robot technology failed.

A detailed analysis of the disengagement reports by Consumer Watchdog found the autonomous vehicles could not cope when faced with the task of making decisions humans make every day when they drive. GPS signal failure, shorter-than-average yellow lights, rapid fluctuations in street traffic, sudden lane blockages, and cars parked incorrectly nearby were common situations listed that the robot cars could not handle, the analysis of the reports found.

“The DMV has proof in the data in these reports that robot cars require a driver ready to take control of the wheel in order to ensure public safety,” said Sahiba Sindhu, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog. “Yet, the DMV has persisted in satisfying these corporations in their pursuit of profit despite the risks to public safety. The least the DMV can do is ensure public transparency and corporate accountability in the process so we know what’s going on.”

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