U.S. Officials: Artificial Intelligence Now Qualifies as a Car's Driver

PHOTO: Googles self-driving Lexus drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus on May 13, 2015, in Mountain View, Calif.PlayTony Avelar/AP Photo
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Federal vehicle safety agencies have routinely worked with private companies to pave the road for autonomous vehicles.

So U.S. officials will now allow the artificial intelligence system responsible for piloting self-driving cars to be considered the driver, according to a letter dated from last week from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One obstacle autonomous vehicle manufactures have faced is what federal law calls the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs). These standards outline the safety requirements applied to all vehicles on U.S. roadways.

Since 1967, when the first of these safety standards became effective under federal law, a driver has been considered a human piloting the vehicle from the front seat.

With manufacturers trying to break this mold, they needed U.S. Department of Transportation approval for their artificial intelligence systems to qualify as a driver.

A November request from Google’s Self-Driving Car Project asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to interpret a number of provisions within federal vehicle safety law, including for their Self-Driving System to qualify as or replace the driver.

The Feb. 4 response from NHTSA gives Google and all other manufacturers approval to design and operate under the interpretation that their artificial intelligence systems qualify as the driver under federal law.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said today his department is committed to embracing innovations that improve safety and efficiency on U.S. roadways.

“Our interpretation that the self-driving computer system of a car could, in fact, be a driver is significant,” Foxx said.

“But the burden remains on self-driving car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.”

Foxx revealed last month that part of the president’s budget proposal would include a 10-year, nearly $4 billion investment to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.