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Will New York Approve Autonomous Delivery Vehicles?

New York officials are now contemplating approval for autonomous delivery vehicles after California recently moved to authorized the innovative light-duty cars and trucks to operate on its streets.

by Erik Bascome, Staten Island Advance / January 6, 2020

(TNS) — As states continue to look toward innovative technologies to address the ever-changing needs of the modern world, California has approved the use of light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles.

Last month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) revised existing regulations to allow the use of autonomous delivery vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds with a permit from the DMV. Eligible vehicles include autonomous cargo vans, mid-sized pickup trucks and passenger cars carrying select goods, like groceries and pizza.

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

Autonomous delivery vehicles will be subject to comply with the same requirements currently in place for autonomous passenger vehicles, with companies eligible to test their autonomous delivery vehicles with or without a safety driver, depending on the type of permit they’ve received.

Currently, 65 companies have permits to test autonomous delivery vehicles on California’s public roads with a safety driver, including Tesla, Ford and Honda, with just one company, Waymo, permitted to operate without a safety driver onboard.

In order to be deployed on public roads, the vehicles must be equipped with an autonomous vehicle data recorder (the technology designed to detect and respond to roadway situations), in addition to being capable of detecting and responding to cyber attacks. The vehicle manufacturers must have conducted extensive testing to ensure safety on public roads and must submit a copy of a law enforcement interaction plan to the DMV. Additionally, if the vehicle does not require a safety driver, manufacturers must meet other requirements, such as a communication link between the vehicle and a remote operator.


The move made by California could inspire other states to follow suit, though the idea of autonomous vehicles on New York City streets has long been a point of contention for city and state officials.

In late 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to allow General Motors and Cruise Automation to begin testing autonomous vehicles on Manhattan streets starting in 2018.

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives, and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology,” Cuomo said at the time. “The spirit of innovation is what defines New York, and we are positioned on the forefront of this emerging industry that has the potential to be the next great technological advance that moves our economy and moves us forward.”

However, the program never came to fruition, with Mayor Bill de Blasio fiercely opposing the deployment of autonomous vehicles onto busy Manhattan streets, citing safety concerns and a lack of coordination between the state and the city’s Department of Transportation and NYPD.

“I really don’t like it,'' de Blasio said at the time. "I think it’s a mistake. I think that it creates a danger. The last thing we wanna do is create a potential new danger, so we’re gonna be very aggressive in saying this is not a good idea unless it is carefully vetted.”

While autonomous vehicles have yet to hit public roads in New York, Optimus Ride, an autonomous vehicle technology company, launched the state’s first self-driving vehicle program this past August in Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre industrial park that’s home to more than 400 businesses, employing more than 10,000 employees.

Currently, six self-driving shuttles are transporting passengers, free of charge, between the recently-opened NYC Ferry stop at Dock 72 and Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Cumberland Gate at Flushing Avenue.

The autonomous vehicles are currently confined to operating within the private complex of Brooklyn Navy Yard, with a safety driver and software operator present in the vehicles to ensure that someone can take control if the self-driving software malfunctions.

“Our system will provide access to and experience with autonomy for thousands of people, helping to increase acceptance of and confidence in this new technology, which helps move the overall industry forward," said Dr. Ryan Chin, CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride.

©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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