California's DMV has also received an application from the startup JingChi to test fully autonomous vehicles
Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced last week that the company would be launching a driverless taxi service in Phoenix later this year. An application Waymo filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for driverless testing, obtained by IEEE Spectrum using public record laws, reveals more about how that service might work.
Waymo is already operating a fully driverless pilot test in Arizona, where companies do not have to seek permission for self-driving cars, with or without human safety operators, or report on their progress. It’s a different matter in California, where many self-driving companies are based. In April, the state’s DMV started accepting applications for fully driverless testing. So far, the DMV has received two applications—one from Waymo, an Alphabet company, and the other from U.S./China startup JingChi.ai.
Waymo’s application seeks permission for 52 fully driverless vehicles, 27 registered in California and 25 with Arizona plates. All are Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans, similar to those currently deployed in Arizona. Waymo intends to test its vehicles in an intensively mapped geofenced area of about 50 square miles near its Mountain View offices. Passengers cannot select a destination outside that area, and Waymo’s software will not create a route that travels outside the geo-zone.
JingChi is being much less ambitious. The startup, which has been embroiled in a trade secret dispute with Baidu, received a DMV permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers only last June. The new application requests permission to test a single driverless 2017 Lincoln MKZ hybrid. In a heavily redacted application, the company told the DMV that it will “initially test the driverless [vehicle] at low speeds in parking lots and on public roads with little traffic and no bystanders,” in a non-residential area near its Sunnyvale headquarters.
Manufacturers also have to inform the DMV of the “operational design domain” for their vehicles. Waymo says its vehicles can handle most roads and parking lots, and speeds of up to 65 miles per hour (mph). They can also cope with fog and light rain, and night-time driving. If Waymo’s minivans encounter heavy rain, snow or ice, flooded roads, or off-road terrain, they will seek a “minimal risk condition” (which usually means stopping in or by the side of the road). Waymo vehicles will also halt operations if they detect a failure, hit something, or sense that their airbags are deploying. JingChi redacted details of its operational design domain, but the company did state that it would be testing day and night.
On top of these precautions, California also requires fully self-driving vehicles to have a remote operator in case the car fails or suffers a collision. JingChi will have a human monitoring the car from its office, able to take remote control if the autonomous system fails, if a passenger requests it, or if someone calls the company to report a problem....MUCH MORE