California OKs testing of ‘light-duty’ autonomous trucks on public roads


California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today proposed a rule change that would let companies deploy “light-duty” autonomous trucks on public roads. Specifically, it seeks to allow the testing of self-driving vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds with an approved permit from regulators, provided they don’t charge a delivery fee.

Organizations would still have to apply for a deployment (public use) permit to make their autonomous technologies commercially available, the DMV says, and the regulations would exclude the testing or deployment of autonomous cars weighing more than 10,001 pounds. But the tweaked rules appear to be a step toward legalizing the kinds of vehicles currently being piloted by Nuro and Udelv, among others.

Today’s release marks the start of a 45-day public comment period (ending May 27, 2019), during which the DMV will hold a public hearing at its Sacramento headquarters to gather input on the regulations. It’s targeting to complete the rulemaking within the year.

The Verge, which spotted the news this afternoon, notes that California is a veritable hotbed for autonomous vehicle startups. More than 60 companies have permits to test over 300 autonomous licensed cars, according to the DMV, including Waymo, which has a permit to test fully driverless vehicles on public roads.

Autonomous delivery is poised to become a particularly lucrative segment of the driverless car market, which is forecast to be worth $65.3 billion by 2027. In fact, the McKinsey Institute predicts that self-driving shuttles and rovers will make up 85% of last-mile deliveries by 2025.

Nuro and Udelv compete against the likes of MarbleStarship Technologies, BoxBot, Dispatch, Robby Technologies, and Ike. Robomart recently announced plans to test its driverless grocery store on wheels; Ford is collaborating with Postmates to deliver items from Walmart stores in Miami-Dade County; and Amazon last month debuted Scout, an autonomous delivery robot.

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There’s also TuSimple, a three-year-old autonomous truck company with autonomous vehicles operating in Arizona, California, and China, and venture-backed Swedish driverless car company Einride. Meanwhile, Paz Eshel and former Uber and Otto engineer Don Burnette recently secured $40 million for startup Kodiak Robotics. That’s not to mention Embark, which integrates its self-driving systems into Peterbilt semis — and which recently launched a pilot with Amazon to haul cargo.



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