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Hands-on policy taken for driverless vehicles rules

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, June 1, 2016, 11:51 a.m.

State Sen. Randy Vulakovich admitted Wednesday that he isn't smart enough to understand how self-driving cars work.

So the Shaler Republican and other state lawmakers enlisted those who do to help them develop legislation to regulate the emerging technology.

“I'm sure we're going to learn a lot today about this vehicle; I can understand and appreciate what this vehicle will be able to do, but I'm not quite sure I'm smart enough to know how it all works,” Vulakovich said Wednesday with Carnegie Mellon University's autonomous vehicle idling behind him.

The state's Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force met for the first time Wednesday. The group includes state and federal transportation officials, university professors and representatives from the state police and automotive groups.

Raj Rajkumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and the head of many of its autonomous vehicle projects, and Ashwini Chhabra, Uber's head of policy development, are part of the group.

Rajkumar has helped CMU develop and test a self-driving 2011 Cadillac SRX that state officials and lawmakers rode in Wednesday. The SUV features three cameras, two in the front and one in the back, six radars and six lasers, which feed data into four desktop-size computers on board controlling steering, accelerating, braking and other functions.

Uber located its Advanced Technology Center in the Strip District and announced two weeks ago it was testing self-driving cars on Pittsburgh's streets. The San Francisco-based company plans to build a test track at the Almono development on the site of the former LTV Steel site in Hazelwood.

“Here and now in Pittsburgh, we are witnessing the future of transportation being brought to life,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said during a news conference Wednesday in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park.

State senators introduced SB 1268 two weeks ago. Its sponsors say the bill balances encouraging innovation in the state with safety.

“This legislation is to help the universities and the companies by clarifying the vehicle testing process,” said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, a sponsor of the bill.

The bill requires companies, universities and others using self-driving cars to report all crashes, including fender-benders, carry $5 million in insurance plus standard auto insurance and obtain the approval of the state Department of Transportation, just to test the technology.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Raj Rajkumar holds his hands up to show that his vehicle is driving itself through the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park on Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 mph by itself.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon University professor Raj Rajkumar holds his hands up to show that his vehicle is driving itself through the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park on Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 mph by itself.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Dr. Raj Rajkumar holds his hands up to show that his vehicle is driving itself through the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 miles per hour by itself.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon University professor Dr. Raj Rajkumar holds his hands up to show that his vehicle is driving itself through the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 miles per hour by itself.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Dr. Raj Rajkumar sits behind the wheel of a self driving-vehicle in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 miles per hour by itself.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon University professor Dr. Raj Rajkumar sits behind the wheel of a self driving-vehicle in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 miles per hour by itself.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Raj Rajkumar sits ready at the wheel as his vehicle is driving itself down Schenley Drive in Scheley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 miles per hour by itself.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon University professor Raj Rajkumar sits ready at the wheel as his vehicle is driving itself down Schenley Drive in Scheley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016. CMU's latest self-driving car is a 2011 Cadillac SRX that takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 miles per hour by itself.
Sen. John Rafferty speaks during a press conference about autonomous cars in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Sen. John Rafferty speaks during a press conference about autonomous cars in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016.
Sen. John Rafferty speaks during a press conference about autonomous cars in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Sen. John Rafferty speaks during a press conference about autonomous cars in the parking lot of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park Wednesday June 1, 2016.
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