The Driverless Commute: VW and Ford to partner on AVs, latest in long string of tie-ups; 11 companies unveil safety-as-design principles, offering closest thing to industry standard; and Lyft tests its cars on blind passengers

1. Big tabs and hard realities.

Going-it-alone is, like, so 2018.

Volkswagen and Ford, one-time rivals fast sobering to the costs and difficulty of engineering next-generation cars, said Friday they would pool resources in the development of autonomous vehicles. Under the long-rumored deal, VW will invest upwards of $2.6 billion into Ford’s self-driving unit, which was already valued at $7 billion before the tie-up.

The agreement is the latest in a string—so many, in fact, that we’ve lost count—of fiercely competitive carmakers cooperating to develop self-driving technology.

Read More

The Driverless Commute: Apple stuns with Drive.AI acquisition; did Florida go too far in new AV bill?; Toyota throws in with Baidu’s Apollo project; and Waymo rolls out limited partnership with Lyft in Arizona

1. Assumptions and expectations

Apple, the famously secretive consumer electronics giant, said this week it had acquired self-driving startup Drive.AI, whose human-robot interaction systems and deep-learning approach earned it an outsize reputation in the autonomous constellation.

The days of going-it-alone are behind us.

  • Like many struggling to reconcile real-world deployment challenges (it turns out, engineering self-driving cars is a lot harder than marketers promised) with stratospheric expectations, Drive.AI had come into hard times recently. According to reports, it filed paperwork ahead of the Apple announcement that it intended to dissolve and lay off its entire workforce.
  • Previously, the company had a variety of splashy pilots under its belt, including a recent test in Texas in which human contingency drivers had been removed from some vehicles.
Read More

The Driverless Commute: Finally out of dark days of early 2000s, do airlines need to be scared of AV disruption threat?; Florida OKs fully self-driving cars; and the long list of new tie-ups and break-ups

1. Disruption

The years that followed the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were uniquely challenging for airlines, but consolidation, cheap fuel and savvy management (not to mention taxpayer bailouts) finally delivered some much-need ballast to the industry only within the last decade.

Now, with profits finally stabilized, new problems are on the horizon.

Fresh research out of Embry-Riddle, the world’s largest aviation and aerospace university, finds that travelers’ appetite for the increasing ordeal of air travel, in particular short-haul travel, is threatened by the convenience of automotive autonomy.

In the study, researchers submitted trips of different lengths and asked respondents whether they would drive themselves, take a flight or ride in a self-driving car.

Read More

The Driverless Commute: Cities aren’t planning for AV deployment and that’s a problem; NHTSA is weighing rewrites of car and commercial vehicle rules; US lags global rivals over lack of national legislation

1. Urban (not)planning

Cities were once highly compact and walkable places that blended residences and workplaces and where people commanded primacy. But that was before the automobile.

Cities were once highly compact and walkable places that blended residences and workplaces and where people commanded primacy. But that was before the automobile.

Now, the modern American city is nothing if not an ecosystem in service of these two-ton forces of congestion. Add up all the 18-lane highways and surface streets, the sprawling blacktop parking lots and sky-high decks, and you find that more than 60 percent of some cities’ precious downtown real estate has been devoted in some way to cars.

Depending on your preferred expert, autonomous vehicles will either reverse or accelerate the very worst symptoms of car-oriented urban planning: congestion, pollution, sprawl.

Read More

The Driverless Commute: Groups ask NHTSA to pump brakes on GM AV petition; USPS goes driverless; the last-ten-feet problem; and Cruise can make left turns in San Fran better than you

1. Public comment season

Cruise vehicle

Groups representing property and life insurance providers, car dealers and consumer safety advocates were among those who lined up to oppose a petition by General Motors to deploy on public roads as many as 5,000 autonomous vehicles that lack conventional operational controls, such as a steering wheel.

  • GM first asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January 2018 for a special dispensation to skirt the Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards, which explicitly require a steering wheel,  acceleration and braking pedals and the like.
  • If approved, the car giant said, it would deploy 2,500 zero-emission driverless cars each year for two years as part of a new on-demand ride-sharing initiative.
Read More

The Driverless Commute: Senior Senate GOPer pledges to renew push for federal AV bill, again; is China going to leapfrog the US in the AV leaderboard?; and a RI cop pulled over an AV shuttle because it looked weird.

1. New hope for federal AV framework? Doubtful.

Senate Republicans will rev consideration of a long-stalled comprehensive federal framework for driverless cars, a top GOP lawmaker signaled Thursday.

The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation last year to authorize and regulate self-driving cars, but a parallel proposal in the upper chamber crashed into the ditch over Democratic objections relating to cybersecurity and safety thresholds. Because the last Congress adjourned without the Senate voting on the bill, both chambers must now start from scratch.

Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a speech at the US Chamber of Commerce that he was hopeful that the wrinkles from last session could be ironed out.

Read More

The Driverless Commute: If AVs take more risks now in early-phase deployment, will they be safer in the long-term?; big electrification news on both coasts; an electrified future for LA while Trump is open to spending on EV charging networks.

1. Humans can’t stop rear-ending slow-moving autonomous vehicles. But who’s to blame: the human, whose behavior mirrors norms if not law, or the paralyzed robot?

Car collision

When autonomous vehicles have been involved in collisions, four years of data teach us that it’s almost always been the fault of a human driver. At least, that’s the black-and-white view generally held by law enforcement.

But autonomous vehicles are so strictly engineered to obey the rules of the road and to avoid statistically dangerous maneuvers that it begs the question whether this overly cautious approach to driving is inviting more chaos within the exiting mobility framework.

Read More