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US in major push to rollout self-driving cars

THE US will announce on Friday steps to get self-driving cars on public roads sooner rather than later.

Under a US Transportation Department plan to speed their rollout, regulators will allow automakers that can demonstrate they have a safe autonomous vehicle to apply for exemptions to certain rules as part of the new approach, which is designed to ensure government doesn’t stand in the way of technological progress.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will issue guidelines on safe deployment of fully autonomous vehicles in the next six months. That will include how self-driving cars should be tested and benchmarks they’ll need to reach to be permitted on the road, the Washington Post reported.

The industry’s frenzy to build more autonomous cars was on display at the ongoing Detroit auto show. Daimler unveiled a new flagship Mercedes-Benz E-Class that can steer itself in auto-pilot mode. The car also has emergency-braking assist, evasive steering and can park itself. It’s the first production model with vehicle-to-infrastructure communications ability.

General Motors invested $US500 million (RM2.2 billion) in Lyft to work with the ride-sharing company to develop a fleet of self- driving cars. Ford announced plans to test autonomous vehicles for better reaction to snowy conditions, one of the major technical hurdles.

Tesla Motors wasn’t at the Detroit show but representatives say it’s going to compete with Google, which is operating perhaps the best-known fleet of self-driving cars, and Apple, which is presumed to be working on them.

Tesla’s chief executive officer, Elon Musk, says electric cars capable of driving autonomously across the United States should be technically feasible in two-to-three years.

The Transportation Department is also promising a quick response to companies that ask for interpretations for new features that might fall between the cracks of its 1960s-era set of safety regulations.

US regulators will also work with state motor-vehicle departments on model regulations for registering and licensing self-driving cars.

The Transportation Department has been gathering data at pilot projects in Wyoming, Tampa, Florida, and New York City, Barbaresso said. That work builds on an earlier project in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Researchers are getting closer to making the technology work on a larger scale, he said.

In February 2014, NHTSA promised to move forward with regulations that will require cars to be able to communicate with each other to avoid crashes. So-called vehicle-to-vehicle communications has the potential to save lives on a scale of earlier innovations like seat belts and air bags, the agency said.

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