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.

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The Driverless Commute in WardsAuto: Biggest Roadblock to Autonomous Vehicles Isn’t Technology

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards need to be reworked or overhauled if autonomous vehicles are going to reach their full potential. Fortunately, federal regulators are adjusting the rules to accommodate autonomous vehicles within the existing legal framework.

To state the obvious: The future of autonomous vehicle regulation is fluid. At present, the federal government regulates the vehicle itself – its construction, composition and reliability – while state governments regulate driver competence.

However, the increased integration of autonomous-vehicle technology into the driving task itself has made distinguishing the driver from the vehicle difficult. As a result, there is overlap between state and federal law in addition to differences between states, leaving automotive companies without a clear standard.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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The Driverless Commute: New Federal Autonomous Vehicle Rules on the Horizon

On Wednesday, May 22, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced they will publish in the Federal Register advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRMs) seeking public comment on possible amendments to two sets of federal regulations that impact autonomous vehicles: the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The NHTSA notice is available here, and the FMCSA notice here. Both agencies’ calls for public comment are aimed at determining whether the rules and regulations currently in place could hamper the effective rollout of autonomous vehicles.

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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.
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