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   LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is trying to do something unusual in this age of rapidly evolving technology — get ahead of a big new development before it goes public.
   By the end of the year, the Department of Motor Vehicles must write rules to regulate cars that rely on computers — not the owner — to do the driving.
   That process began Tuesday, when the DMV held an initial public hearing in Sacramento to puzzle over how to regulate the vehicles that haven't been fully developed yet.
   Among the complex questions officials sought to unravel:
   How will the state know the cars are safe?
   Does a driver even need to be behind the wheel?
   Can manufacturers mine data from onboard computers to make product pitches based on where the car goes or set insurance rates based on how it is driven?
   Do owners get docked points on their license if they send a car to park itself and it slams into another vehicle?
   Once the stuff of science fiction, driverless cars could be commercially available by decade's end. Under a California law passed in 2012, the DMV must decide by the end of this year how to integrate the cars — often called autonomous vehicles — onto public roads.
   That means the regulation's writers will post draft language regulations around June, then alter the rules in response to public comment by fall in order to get them finalized by the end of 2014.
   Three other states have passed driverless car laws, but those rules mostly focus on testing. California has mandated rules on testing and public operation, and the DMV expects within weeks to finalize regulations dictating what companies must do to test the technology on public roads.
   Those rules came after Google Inc. had already sent its fleet of Toyota Priuses and Lexuses, fitted with an array of sensors including radar and lasers, hundreds of thousands of miles in California. Major automakers also have tested their own models.
   Now, the DMV is scrambling to regulate the broader use of the cars. With the federal government apparently years away from developing regulations, California's rules could effectively become the national standard.
   Much of the initial discussion Tuesday focused on privacy concerns.
   California's law requires autonomous vehicles to log records of operation so the data can be used to reconstruct an accident.
   But the cars "must not become another way to track us in our daily lives," John M. Simpson of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog said at the hearing. Simpson called out Google, saying the Internet giant rebuffed attempts to add privacy guarantees when it pushed the 2012 legislation mandating rules on testing and public operation.
   Seated across from Simpson at the hearing's head tables was a representative from Google, who offered no comment on the data privacy issue.
   Discussion also touched on how to know a car is safe, and whether an owner knows how to properly operate it.
   Ron Medford, Google's director of safety for its "self-driving car" project, suggested that manufacturers should be able to self-certify that their cars are safe. He cautioned that it would get complicated quickly if the state tried to assume that role.
   In initial iterations, human drivers would be expected to take control in an instant if the computer systems fail. Unlike current technology — which can help park a car or keep it in its freeway lane — owners might eventually be able to read, daydream or even sleep while the car did the work.
   Responding to a question received over Twitter, DMV attorney Brian Soublet acknowledged that the department is still grappling with the most fundamental question of whether a person will need to be in the driver's seat.
   Maybe not, by the time the technology is safe and reliable, he said.
   Soublet asked who would ensure that owners know how to use the new technology. Should the onus be on dealers, manufacturers, owners?
   Representatives of automakers suggested they shouldn't be asked to guarantee the capability of owners. John Tillman of Mercedes-Benz said the DMV could test owners on basics such as starting and stopping the automated driving function.
   Automaker representatives also expressed concerns that other states could pass regulations that were substantially different from California, creating the kind of patchwork rules that businesses hate.
   States outside California have been in touch and are following California's rule-making process closely, said Bernard Soriano, a deputy director at the DMV.
   Other discussion centered on how vulnerable the cars could be to hackers, who might wrest control of the vehicles.
   Industry representatives said that while that's a concern, they would vigilantly guard against such vulnerability because it would be disastrous.
Read more...
   KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — More than four days after a Malaysian jetliner went missing en route to Beijing, authorities acknowledged Wednesday they didn't know which direction the plane carrying 239 passengers was heading when it disappeared, vastly complicating efforts to find it.
   Amid intensifying confusion and occasionally contradictory statements, the country's civil aviation authorities and the military said the plane may have turned back from its last known position between Malaysian and Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane on the western side of Malaysia.
   How it might have done this without being clearly detected remains a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be spotted by radar, were either knocked out or turned off. If it did manage to fly on, it would challenge earlier theories that the plane may have suffered a catastrophic incident, initially thought reasonable because it didn't send out any distress signals.
   Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say with any level of certainty what happened.
   The search for the missing aircraft was begun from the spot it was last reported to be over the ocean between Malaysia and Vietnam. But Malaysian authorities have also said search operations were ongoing in the Strait of Malacca. Scores of planes and aircraft have been scouring waters in both locations.
   The country's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had managed to track the aircraft turning back from its original course, crossing the country and making it to the Malacca strait. The Associated Press contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.
   Rodzali referred to a statement he said he made March 9 in which he said the air force has "not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back" and said search and rescue efforts had been expanded to the waters around Penang Island, in the northern section of the strait.
   "There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings," the country's civilian aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said Wednesday.
   It is possible that the radar readings are not definitive or subject to interpretation, especially if a plane is malfunctioning.
   The confusion has prompted speculation that different arms of the government have different opinions over where the plane is most likely to be, or even that authorities are holding back information. The crisis may have led to internal mix-ups and miscommunication.
   The Strait of Malacca that separates Malaysia from Indonesia's Sumatra Island is some 400 kilometers (250 miles) from where the plane was last known to have made contact with ground control officials over the Gulf of Thailand at a height of 35,000 feet (almost 11,000 meters) early Saturday
   Indonesia air force Col. Umar Fathur said the country had received official information from Malaysian authorities that the plane was above the South China Sea, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kota Bharu, Malaysia, when it turned back toward the strait and then disappeared. That would place its last confirmed position closer to Malaysia than has previously been publicly disclosed.
   Fathur said Malaysian authorities have determined four blocks to be searched in the strait, which Indonesia was assisting in.
   Vietnam continued to search for the plane on land and sea. In its area of responsibility, some 22 aircraft and 31 ships from several countries were involved, according to Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People's Army.
   Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who has been ordered to look at possible criminal aspects in the disappearance of the plane, said Tuesday that hijacking, sabotage and issues related to the pilots' psychological health were being considered.
   An Australian TV station reported that the first officer on the missing plane, Fariq Abdul Hamid, had invited two women into the cockpit during a flight two years ago. One of the women, Jonti Roos, described the encounter on Australia's "A Current Affair."
   Roos said she and a friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the entire one-hour flight on Dec. 14, 2011, from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur. She said the arrangement did not seem unusual to the plane's crew.
   "Throughout the entire flight, they were talking to us and they were actually smoking throughout the flight," said Roos, who didn't immediately reply to a message sent to her via Facebook. The second pilot on the 2011 flight was not identified
   Malaysia Airlines said they took the allegations seriously.
Read more...
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - The Malaysian military says it has radar evidence showing the missing Boeing 777 jetliner changed course and made it to the Malacca Strait, hundreds of kilometers (miles) away from the last location reported by civilian authorities.
 
The development injects new mystery into the investigation of the flight's disappearance.
 
Local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysian air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying radar at a military base had detected the airliner near Pulau Perak, at the northern approach to the strait.
 
A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report on Tuesday and also said the aircraft was believed to be flying low.
 
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Read more...

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