By Katie Orr, July 25, 2013
At a Ford Dealership in Northern Sacramento, Fleet Sales Manager Obeth Carlos Davila drives a new Ford Explorer off the lot. It’s equipped with a self-parking system, and is this year’s version of the car of the future
Davila drives along the road and activates the park- assist system. It directs him to drive slowly forward while it scans the curb for parking spots. It locates a spot and directs Davila to stop and put the car in reverse. He does and then takes his foot off the gas and his hands off the wheel. Davila watches as the car steers itself into a parallel parking space.
A self-parking car is a big step towards a future of self-driving cars. As you watch from the passenger seat there’s some anxiety and some amazement. There’s an urge to grab the spinning steering wheel and brace for impact with the surrounding cars. But again and again the car quickly and smoothly parks itself.
Davila says self-driving cars could catch on, once drivers are comfortable with giving up control.
“But it’s gonna take awhile,” he said. “I’m mean, sounds good, who knows, we might have flying cars in about ten years.”
That though amuses Bernard Soriano.
“We’ve got our hands full with autonomous vehicles right now!” he laughs.
Soriano is Deputy Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. California is one of three states with laws allowing for some kind of driverless car. The legislature has directed the DMV to create regulations for them. Soriano said for now, the rules won’t let the public get driverless licenses.
“By the end of this year we hope to have the regulations in place to allow for the different manufactures to test their autonomous vehicles on our roadways,” he said. “By January 2015 we will be done with the regulations that will define the operation of these vehicles on our roadways.”
So who can operate a driverless car? And would the operator have to sit in the driver’s seat? Soriano said there are numerous questions yet to be answered.
“The question of liability is one that just comes to mind immediately,” he said. “I mean, who’s responsible? What happened? Is it the operator if the operator is not actually driving?”
Soriano recently discussed driverless cars with about 300 colleagues at the second annual Road Vehicle Automation conference at Stanford University. Researchers, manufactures and regulators all gathered to listen to industry leaders like Volkswagen and Google and to collaborate on making the vehicles a reality.