The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted temporary approval for robotics company Nuro to operate its unmanned self-driving vehicles on public roads, taking a massive step towards the United States' eventual acceptance of autonomous vehicles. This was despite Nuro's vehicles not being equipped with any accommodations for human drivers, nor are they fitted with mandatory components such as side mirrors, windshield wipers, brake pedals, or steering wheels.
Nuro's autonomous vehicles are not designed for humans. Instead, they are designed to deliver goods to people. The vehicles are equipped with a suite of sensors, from lasers, cameras, and radar, allowing them to navigate public roads. The NHTSA has granted Nuro permission to deploy as many as 2,500 autonomous vehicles under the temporary permit, though the company noted that it is only planning on operating less than 100 this year.
In a statement to ABC27 News, University of South Carolina law professor Bryant Walker Smith stated that Nuro's approval is a good sign for companies that are pursuing autonomous driving technologies. By allowing Nuro to run its vehicles on public roads, Smith noted that the NHTSA is transitioning from only making abstract statements about supporting autonomy to rolling out actual regulations for self-driving vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted temporary approval for the Silicon Valley robotics company to run a low-speed autonomous delivery vehicle without side and rear-view mirrors used by human drivers. https://t.co/10UW51qVVc— John (@Reengineerit) February 7, 2020
"This is the first time that the agency said 'yes we approve this vehicle that does not meet traditional driver-oriented standards. That's a big step because it makes it much more concrete, more real for the agency and really for the public," he said.
Nuro's approval bodes well for Tesla, particularly its push for autonomous driving technologies through its Full Self-Driving suite. Tesla has taken steps to get closer to real autonomy, going as far as developing its own custom silicon to help its vehicles reach full self-driving. Tesla's Autopilot, which continues to improve with each over-the-air update from the company, is already among the best driver-assist systems in the industry today, and its features are closing in on autonomy as well.
This could be seen in Tesla's recently released features. Navigate on Autopilot, for example, is already able to operate from highway on-ramp to off-ramps. Smart Summon, another FSD feature, allows cars to exit a parking spot and head over to a location set by their owners. Inner-city driving will be coming soon as well.
Autonomy is a crucial priority for Tesla, and CEO Elon Musk has an optimistic outlook about the company's self-driving initiatives. Musk has noted that the rollout of Tesla's full driving features will eventually be dependent on regulators. But considering the NHTSA's decision with Nuro's autonomous vehicles, perhaps a clearer set of self-driving regulations will be coming sooner rather than later. If this is the case, then companies like Tesla will be able to innovate without any hesitation. This, of course, benefits consumers as a whole.
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