Self-Driving Cars and Regulators

Business Insider has a great inside-baseball story on the early days of Otto, particularly the negotiations and maneuvering that took place in running their first self-driving truck tests in Nevada.

The Nevada regulatory bureaucracy is generally very amenable toward autonomous vehicles, but there’s still a certain amount of required testing and licensing.

According to the BI article, Otto had to figure out a way around that in order to keep up their frantic development pace:

Before an autonomous vehicle can be operated on the state’s roads, it must be issued a testing license and special red license plates. It has to be able to capture driving data in case of crashes, have switches to engage and disengage the autonomous systems, and have a way to alert the human operator if it fails.

To obtain a license, Otto would have had to produce evidence of 10,000 miles of previous autonomous operation and submit a truck for a self-driving test, such as the one completed by Google in 2012. It would also need to post a $5 million bond and file reams of paperwork. Even with all those requirements fulfilled, Otto’s demo would need two people seated up front, one of them poised to take over in the event of a failure.

Otto’s founders were faced with a stark choice. They could submit to the DMV and undertake the laborious process of modifying, testing, and licensing their truck. This would likely take a month or more, and could risk their first-mover advantage in driverless trucking. Or the engineers could continue with their test as planned.

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