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California drives forward with autonomous delivery

California has opened the traps for wide-scale testing and commercial application of autonomous vehicles for delivery companies across the state.

The application process for testing the vehicles will be almost exactly the same as that for autonomous passenger delivery vehicles, though if the companies involved want to charge a delivery fee to customers, an additional commercial licence will also have to be sought. The licences will cover self-driving systems in passenger cars, midsized pickup trucks and cargo vans, and may not have to feature a back-up safety driver.

“The adoption of these regulations means Californians soon could receive deliveries from an autonomous vehicle provided the company fulfils the requirements,” California DMV Director Steve Gordon said. “As always, public safety is our primary focus.”

The conditions for licences which include a safety driver are largely as you would expect, though the DMV has taken a somewhat surprising step by creating a separate list of requirements for vehicles where there is no back-up option.

  • Permission from the local authorities
  • Provide a link between the vehicle and a remote operator
  • Provide a link between the vehicle and law enforcement agencies
  • Demonstrate the vehicle can meet Level 4 or Level 5 under the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) autonomous technology descriptions

There are of course other conditions, including cybersecurity certifications. Interestingly enough, the cybersecurity element is a bit hazy. Whereas other conditions have been linked to specific bodies or agencies for certification, the security element needs to ‘meet industry standards’, a very nuanced term.

As it stands, there are currently 65 companies in California who have permits to test autonomous vehicles. These companies include all the automotive giants which you would expect, as well as the software firms powering the ‘brain’ of the vehicle, though we suspect this list will start to grow very quickly.

The larger logistics and delivery companies will of course want to be involved here, while we suspect there will also be entrepreneurs who will want to create their own fleet to serve smaller companies who exclusively focus on the primary business. Bob’s Burger down the road will never own its own fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles, but it could offer a slice of profits to make use of a supplier’s vehicles.

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