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California allows 'light-duty' self-driving delivery vehicles

Expect to see a flood of autonomous grocery and cargo vehicles.

Self-driving delivery vehicles could soon become a relatively common sight on California streets. The state's Department of Motor Vehicles will allow "light-duty" autonomous delivery vehicles under 10,001lbs for testing and commercial uses. Companies will need permits that vary depending on whether or not a backup driver is involved, but this will allow everything from modified passenger cars to purpose-built vans to carry groceries, pizza orders and other forms of cargo.

Tests with backup drivers will require proof of relevant testing under controlled conditions, trained drivers with clean records and timely reports for collisions and human interventions. Completely driverless tests, meanwhile, will also require notifiying authorities, a certified link to a remote operator, a police "interaction plan" and verification that the cars meet federal safety standards as well as truly autonomous (Level 4 or 5) capabilities. Full-fledged public use will require still more, including vehicle data recorders, certified resistance to cyberattacks, assurances that it's safe to deploy and the ability to share vehicle owner and operator info in the event of a crash.

The DMV can start approving permits in 30 days, or around January 17th, 2020.

There are already companies lining up. Nuro, known for its completely driverless courier vehicles, has signaled its intent to apply for a permit. This could also help Ford and others test autonomous delivery in the state. This also steps up pressure on Waymo. While it's focused on passengers rather than produce, it's currently the only company with a permit to test fully driverless vehicles in California. Once permits for delivery vehicles are available, it'll have to share the road with potential rivals.