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California DMV to Google self-driving car: Go, get a steering wheel

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Google's self-driving cars are ready to hit the public roads for testing, but California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has thrown a speed bump in the form of new rules that requires the driverless cars to have a steering wheel and brake pedals.

The new rules (pdf) issued by the DMV require the car's driver to have "immediate physical control of the vehicle or (be) actively monitoring the vehicle's operations and capable of taking over" and will take effect on September 16.

This means Google's futuristic-looking driverless car prototypes will have to be equipped with a steering wheel and a braking system. These are just two of the many conventional car components Google pulled out to create a lightweight, fuel-efficient, self-driving car without the need for unnecessary parts, which includes manual controls, airbags and rear-view mirrors, to name a few.

Although the new rules still allow Google to test its driverless cars on private roads or on public roads outside California, Google says it is complying with the DMV's requirements. The search company will also equip its fleet of about a hundred prototype cars with direct controls, including a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator pedal.

"With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features, while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary," says Google spokesperson Courtney Hohne.

Google also applied for a permit to test other types of driverless vehicles, including automated motorcycles and trucks, but the DMV declined, with DMV official Bernard Soriano saying the agency wants to take "baby steps" when it comes to developing and rolling out driverless vehicle technology.

"California's autonomous vehicle legislation distinguishes between vehicles that are in testing phase, and vehicles that are ready for operation on public roads.  It's only in the testing phase that our vehicle must have temporary controls.  We have known about this since the law was signed in 2012 and since the testing regulations were published in May 2014, so these requirements are not news; in fact, we mentioned the temporary controls in our May blog post about our new prototype vehicles.  And they're entirely consistent with our top priority: developing our technology safely," Google told Tech Times.

Google first tested its self-driving car technology on existing cars from Lexus and Toyota but later introduced its own prototype built from the ground up. While today's cars are built to crash, Google's vision of the vehicle of the future involves cars that never, or at least rarely crash. This means there is no need for multiple metal reinforcements, crumple zones and other safety equipment that bulk up the car and contribute to its fuel load. The new driverless cars look like something that came straight out of "The Jetsons," with their nearly-flat front and back and the mounted laser sensors on top. The cars are also fully electric, which allows Google to test its new technology with minimal carbon footprint.

The DMV notes that it will issue a new set of rules for the consumer version of the cars once they become commercially available "in a couple of years."

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