Audi Jumps To The Front Of The Line For Self-Driving Cars In California (TSLA, GM, F)

Audi announced on Wednesday that it has been awarded the first autonomous driving permit for the state of California.

The timing is perfect, as new regulations governing autonomous driving — or “self-driving” cars — are simultaneously taking effect.

“Audi is a driving force behind the research taking automated driving from science fiction to pre-production readiness,” said Scott Keogh, President, Audi of America, in a statement. “Obtaining the first permit issued by the State of California shows that we intend to remain the leader in this vital technology frontier.”

According to David Undercoffler at the Los Angeles Times, “Audi isn’t wasting any time putting its new permit to use. The automaker already has a specially-equipped A7 autonomous car in the San Francisco area that it plans to begin testing immediately.”

Audi of course isn’t alone in preparing for the impending age of hands-off-the-wheel, eyes-on-something-other-than-the-road — without significant worry of an accident or threat of prosecution by legal authorities.

After testing driverless cars for several years, Google has begun to manufacture small, self-driving vehicles that largely lack traditional controls. General Motors and Ford are also testing vehicles, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has indicated the his company’s cars will have self-driving capability in less than a car driverless self-drivingAudi’s so-called “Traffic Jam” A7s won’t be truly driverless: During testing, a qualified driver who is also an employee of the automaker must be at the wheel, even if he or she is doing nothing more than keeping an eye on things, sort of like pilots monitoring a jet’s autopilot.

Each autonomous vehicles operating in California will have to sport a special driverless license plate, just as vehicles did earlier in Nevada. Automakers must also post a $5 million insurance bond for each car.

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