Fans of Weil’s Product Liability Monitor know that we keep a close eye on developments relating to autonomous, a.k.a. “self-driving,” vehicles. In June, I wrote about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that the State was accepting applications from companies that were interested in testing or demonstrating autonomous vehicles on public roads. I noted the host of requirements that had to be met to obtain permission for such testing. In light of that, it was not clear to me how many companies would take Governor Cuomo up on his offer. In particular, I wondered if any company would attempt to test its autonomous vehicle technology on the busy streets of New York City itself.
Well, we now know that there is at least one company up for the challenge. Governor Cuomo announced this week that General Motors has applied to test autonomous vehicle technology in early 2018 in Manhattan. The testing will be conducted through a GM subsidiary, Cruise Automation, and involves a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles. In accordance with the legislation announced in June, GM has begun mapping out its test site in the borough, will have two passengers in each vehicle–one sitting behind the wheel to monitor and evaluate performance and a second in the passenger seat, and the testing will be supervised by the New York State Police. In announcing GM’s application, Governor Cuomo noted that “autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives” and “the spirit of innovation is what defines New York, and we are positioned on the forefront of this emerging industry.”
And an emerging industry it is. What used to be the stuff of science fiction is quickly becoming a reality. Just recently, the California state Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a new set of regulations that would allow driverless cars to be tested on California roads by June 2018. As of now, California’s regulations require a human driver behind the wheel while fully autonomous cars are being tested.
As for GM’s choice to test its self-driving technology in Manhattan, Cruise Automation’s chief executive officer, Kyle Vogt, notes that “New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations . . . which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate.” It is indeed hard to deny that if the technology can master the streets of Manhattan, it can master the streets pretty much anywhere.
We will continue to follow developments on this exciting technology and report on them on our blog.