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It’s been a little while since we heard anything about the Waymo, the self-driving autonomous vehicle from Google and Alphabet Inc. Back in June 2019, Waymo signed a partnership with Renault shortly after discussions of merging Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Renault fell through. There will be no FCA and Renault merger, so it’s kind of odd to see Renault and Waymo saddle up when the entire Waymo fleet is made up of modified Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. It’s weird. Regardless, Waymo is perking up to make some noise, because they’re tackling a giant of safety to change the standards for autonomous vehicles. It’s Waymo VS the NHTSA.
Waymo VS the NHTSA
In this corner, we have The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). An agency of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, part of the Department of Transportation, the NHTSA states that an automobile must meet 75 different auto safety standards set by the agency – period. That’s a hard pill to swallow for technology giant Google, slowly taking over every kind of market, and has its sights set on the automotive industry. After launching Waymo One successfully, a fully autonomous ride-hailing app, Waymo has proof that it can handle busy city streets, even the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Arizona.
Why does this matter? Well, for one, those 75 safety standards set by the NHTSA are old, old, old and assume that a licensed human driver is behind the wheel. The same situation is no longer a problem when it comes to a self-driving vehicle. With a vehicle that drives itself, the driver doesn’t even have to be facing the road, now with these swivel-design concepts we’re seeing popup at auto shows.
Those very concepts could be slowing down approval. The NHTSA has no plans to begin writing rules on seating positions or revising crashworthiness standards that address occupants when facing either direction in a fully self-driving vehicle until March 2020. It’s just around the corner, but various automakers claim that the agency could take until 2025 to complete a comprehensive rewrite of various safety standards, and that just won’t do. Maybe it’s time an agency for autonomous self-driving vehicles is developed?
“…It is imperative that NHTSA continue to drive this critical dialogue with a sense of urgency so that the necessary regulatory evolution keeps pace with advancing technology.” - General Motors Co.
There’s another big name when it comes to self-driving vehicles. General Motors Co., the umbrella group that Chevrolet sits under, has the self-driving Chevy Bolt EV making the rounds for real-world testing. Other automakers like Mitsubishi Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have also expressed interest in developing autonomous technology. Mitsubishi Electric, part of Mitsubishi Motors Corp, developed Mobile Mapping System (MMS, autonomous driving system with an interesting take on self-driving technology by developing and interacting with a 3D map of the driver’s surroundings in real-time. FCA invested $30 million into upgrading its Chelsea Proving Grounds into an autonomous vehicle testing facility.
The NHTSA could claim there’s no urgency to rewrite the rules for self-driving vehicles, seeing as how auto manufacturers aren’t exactly at the point of full autonomy yet, but there’s clearly progress. Furthermore, Waymo argues that auto manufacturers may be hitting roadblocks due to oppressive NHTSA standards that complicate their designs. What do you think about self-driving vehicles? Join the discussion on NowCar social media.