Autonomous cars with remote operators to hit California streets in April

Autonomous cars have come a long way, but the majority of them still rely on a human driver to take the wheel in an event of an emergency. That may change, however: Some companies are experimenting with remote-controlled systems where a single human operator would be able to take remote control of a car instead of relying on individual drivers. Reuters reports that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has said that it might allow tests of these systems as early as April of this year.

Companies such as General Motors and Alphabet’s Waymo are already hard at work on this technology. Should they meet the April deadline, it would be the first time that they could test their autonomous cars without needing physical drivers to be present in the vehicles.

Many within the industry believe that this system will be adopted by ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. After all, it is likely more affordable to pay a single person to remotely operate a dozen cars than pay a dozen drivers to drive their own cars.

The remote-control technology is already being used by NASA and the U.S. military, but self-driving car makers believe it could speed up the adoption of autonomous vehicles. The use of a remote operator is also seen as a way to persuade lawmakers to ease up restrictions on the self-driving industry. During a Senate hearing on the issue of self-driving cars, Zoox CEO Tim Kentley-Klay said that a remote operations center would provide both support for the company’s fleet of cars and as a means of ensuring customer service.

“When your model is to have autonomous vehicles deployed as a for-hire service in cities, you are still going to need a command center in that city that has a human-in-the-loop oversight of the fleet, both to deal with vehicles if they have an issue but also to deal with customers if they need help,” Kentley-Klay said during the hearing.

The remote-controlled system is expected to be approved on February 26 and a month-long public notice will then follow. Assuming the technology is ready, we could see this new breed of self-driving cars hit the roads as early as April 1.