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.

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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.

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The Driverless Commute: A light pollution solution in AVs; Tesla-taxis; and Waymo’s app is up for download

1. Seeing in the dark

Nighttime skyline

A new paper published this month in the journal of Science and Engineering Ethics posits that autonomous vehicles could help break the industrialized world’s addiction to artificial nighttime light.

  • Light pollution from cars, street and parking lot lamps all wreak havoc on our natural world. Seduced by the other-worldly glow of towers and lamps, insects are lured to their doom, baby turtles are beached and birds crash and clatter.
  • Street and parking lot light represent some 90 percent of all outdoor illumination from the industrialized world.
  • 1.6 percent of all energy consumed globally is poured into streetlights while headlights consume roughly 3 percent of vehicular fuel.
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The Driverless Commute: Is 2019 a bear turn for AVs?; the fight over connected car communication divides car makers in Europe; cheaper, lighter LiDAR and machine-learning for lane-keeping.

1. A bear year

2018 was the year of the driverless car.

No, they didn’t become commercially available and they failed to traverse the realm of true autonomy, but they captured the public’s imagination and sometimes paranoia in a way unlike ever before. Finally, it wasn’t just artificial intelligence researchers talking about autonomous vehicles, but regular Joes drawn in equal parts fascination and fear to the subject.

But now the honeymoon is over.

After throwing money at startups like drunken sailors for years, the industry has signaled a coming retrenchment. Rather than more multi-billion dollar acquisitions, expect to hear about reoganizations and partnerships that would have been unthinkable only years earlier.

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The Driverless Commute: Disengagement reports from China to California and lessons for AV sector in jet crashes

1. Beijing just issued AV report cards. Here’s why you should use California’s instead.

China autonomous vehicles  - Beijing AV report

Beijing transportation officials offered this week a first, if severely constrained, glimpse into the country’s autonomous vehicle industry, saying in a new report that eight licensed self-driving firms had logged more than 150,000 kilometers on public roads last year in the Chinese capital.

Ninety percent of that distance was managed by just one operator, search giant Baidu, which also leads the pack in number of test vehicles.

Reports on test driving stats for self-driving vehicles by various autonomous vehicle firms.

Notably absent from the government’s report are measures of disengagements, though a parallel report by a private think tank using voluntary data described 23 situations in which safety drivers were required to assume control of the cars.

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The Driverless Commute: GM’s driverless exemption petition advances, but key questions for industry remains; a driver’s test for driverless cars; and robo-race car to edge test

1. NHTSA advances GM’s FMVSS exemption bid. But we still don’t have answers on liability.

Car from GM Cruise LLC, a driverless  car company that tests and develops autonomous car technology.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is airing for public comment two petitions to deploy on public roads vehicles that lack conventional controls like a steering wheel or pedals.

The move came some fourteen months after General Motors first asked federal regulators for a temporary exemption from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The automaker asked the agency in January 2018 for 16 human-driver-based exemptions from FMVSS with the hope it could deploy a fleet of robocabs later this year. (You can read their petition here.)

If approved, federal regulators would be endorsing the bold proposition that autonomous vehicles (these ones, at least) can deliver a standard of safety equivalent to what is already required of existing cars, but the long wait is evidence that catching the feds’ green light is neither easy nor assured.

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The Driverless Commute in Law360: What’s Ahead For Autonomous Vehicle Test Driver Regs

Autonomous vehicles are layered with complex, still-emerging technology. As a result, what makes driverless cars tick is a mystery for virtually the entire public. That dynamic itself shouldn’t be all that’s concerning: We routinely interact with technology of which we have little understanding. But when it comes to driving, a task humans have controlled for generations, the thought of surrendering the wheel to a code-based operating system is uniquely unsettling.

Autonomous Vehicles - Car Interior

Empirically that should not be the case. Conservative estimates show that 94 percent of vehicle accidents are caused by human error. Autonomous vehicles, operating at peak performance and constantly communicating not only with traffic lights and stop signs but also with other vehicles and pedestrians, should significantly reduce, or even eliminate, car accidents, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care and repair costs.

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