Testing Autonomous Cars at Research Center vs. on Florida Roads with No Rules

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With the spate of autonomous vehicle accidents that we hear about, there’s no doubt there’s a great need for testing before these vehicles will ever be ready for the average consumer.

However, there are no hard rules for this testing, while you would think there would be. While Argo AI will test its cars in a $15 million self-driving car research center, the state of Florida is deciding to do it on the open road. The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed new legislation that allows autonomous cars on the road with no human driver.

Various Ways to Test Autonomous Cars

Most likely the last line in the last paragraph scared you a little bit, the thought that autonomous cars are out on the road with no human drivers behind the wheel, or at least there’s a potential for them to be. You may be swearing off any driving in Florida during your summer vacation.

The new law states, “A fully autonomous vehicle may operate in this state regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle.”

Not only does it make that bold statement, but the new law also amends previous traffic rules to better accommodate a future with self-driving cars. This includes a rule that gives an exemption to AVs from existing traffic laws that ban the use of a phone or watching TV while a vehicle is in motion.

Michigan and Texas allow “people-free vehicles” on the states’ roads, but Florida prohibits local regulations to differ from the state law. That means these rules apply wherever you go in the Sunshine State.

“They’re going to be treated like another car,” said law professor Dorothy Glancy, who specializes in transportation law at Santa Clara University. She feels it’s as if the state of Florida is telling everyone, “Bring your AVs to our state. We will not hassle you.”

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She also called the law very vague and felt it left too many key questions. She believes that definitions in the law are “great big marshmallows” with their lack of specifics.

Yet, Argo AI, a startup backed by Ford Motor Company, seems to be looking to do things a little more safely, as well as less frightening. They’re giving $15 million to Carnegie Mellon University to build a new research center.

The funds will be used by the Carnegie Mellon University Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research to “pursue advanced research projects to help overcome hurdles to enabling self-driving vehicles to operate in a wide variety of real-world conditions, such as winter weather or construction zone.”

Considering they are testing autonomous vehicles in Miami, Washington DC, Palo Alto, and Detroit, they really don’t need an expensive center, as Miami will be operating under Florida’s new law, and Detroit will be doing the same under Michigan’s existing law. They can test these cars out in the open.

Additionally, what they’re testing seems to be what everyone is most worried about with regard to autonomous vehicles. They’ll be testing the software and hardware self-driving cars use to “see” and “think.” If they’re going to be out on the open road without people behind the wheel, they need to be able to see and think as well as people, and I know there are many who believe they never will be able to do that.

Speeding Up the Timeline

It certainly seems like Florida, Michigan, and Texas are trying to speed up the autonomous car timeline like they want to get these cars out into the mainstream, safety be damned. But even if you discount that, there are still so many roadblocks preventing them from being an everyday occurrence and accepted worldwide.

Thankfully, there are companies like Argo AI that are looking to keep everything safe, but the fact that they’re backed by Ford indicates their bottom line is still financial, especially if they’re willing to pay $15 million to get there.

Does Florida’s new law for self-driving cars worry you? Does it seem like they’re trying to rush things a bit? What do you think will become of Argo AI’s research? Answer these questions and tell us what you think in the comments below.

4 comments

  1. “Does Florida’s new law for self-driving cars worry you?”
    No. The new law does not change the status quo. Many cars in Florida already seem like they are moving without a driver behind the wheel, even when the car is full of occupants.

    “What do you think will become of Argo AI’s research?”
    I think Argo AI has the right idea. Get rid of as many kinks and problems under controlled conditions. However, sooner or later, to prove that autonomous cars are viable, they will have to let their vehicles out onto the actual roads to face traffic conditions in the wild.

    I do not plan to do any driving in Florida, Michigan or Texas so I don’t expect to be running into (literally and figuratively) any autonomous cars. Although I do foresee a jump in liability litigation in those states, especially in Texas.

    1. “Many cars in Florida already seem like they are moving without a driver behind the wheel, even when the car is full of occupants.”

      I don’t know if that was humor or you were serious but I had to LOL. 😂 Miami Vice forever!

      1. I’ve driven in Florida and I have observed cars with FLA license plates outside of their native environment (i.e. in other states). Many of the cars seem to have a mind of their own. “Mind of their own” – isn’t that a definition of a autonomous car? Besides, many of the big cars in Florida are driven by little old ladies and little old men. When you pass or follow them, it looks like there is no driver.

  2. Put 50,000 of these things on roads at once in the same state and see what attrition modes appear. Stress testing is a good thing! Dumb idea? No, it’s calling the hype bluff.

    I don’t live in any of those three states and the inevitable deaths from these irresponsible experiments with only a few AV’s will be sad. If you get much outside urban areas most anywhere in the country, roads are totally different. It’s not too difficult for a human to learn to stay on a road with frost heaves, ruts, sudden elevation changes from side to side, ice, snow, dogs, turtles, washouts, mud, etc. Edges are not clear, center lines are not always present. Those who don’t crash look far ahead, pay close attention at all times, steer quickly, avoid obstacles and keep going. Definitely not the lusty AV crowd.

    Geezer vehicles on knuckle aim and phone addict nerds in neeeeeeeeeee cars who can’t drive well or fast would be great customers for self drivers. Get enough of them on the road and they’ll be indistinguishable from mass transportation (“May as well ride a bus, deude!”), what we should be developing more of instead of this stuff. We take driving for granted; we’ve forgotten there are so many aspects to it beyond not crashing. What’s wrong with a 20 passenger AV?

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