The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Why driverless cars are snowbirds—and why that’s a problem for global deployment; Waymo lifts curtain on fleet management hurdles; Ford outlines its AV ethics; and a tie-up for Mobileye and Baidu

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. Snowbirds

It’s no mere coincidence that the most desirable theaters of driverless experimentation—we’re looking at you, Southern California, Arizona and Florida—rarely suffer inclement winter weather.

Because winter weather uniquely confounds the standard hardware suite that enables the safe navigation of an autonomous vehicle, very few of the industry’s biggest players are investing in the requisite research and development to build a car capable of performing a function that eludes even humans: driving in snow.

That could make for a stilted (or even unsafe) deployment of the technology in colder climates.

But Boston-based startup WaveSense, an outgrowth of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, thinks the answer to the road cover conundrum lies in ground-penetrating radar, which would help autonomous vehicles maintain lanes by measuring geological patterns underground to render a road’s fingerprint even in heavy snow.

First used by the US Army in the Afghanistan conflict to enable precise navigation of large military vehicles on dust-covered roads, the technology is now being used to bridge the navigation gaps left by forward-looking lidar and cameras by instead looking down.

How it works: Radar will penetrate 10 feet below the ground’s surface to measure standard geological cues that indicate a road’s position; researchers claim it’s accurate up to one inch at highway speeds.

The Driverless Commute, a subscription-based service, is provided by Dentons’ global Autonomous Vehicles team. If you believe a colleague or associate would benefit from this service, please share this link so they may subscribe.

2. AV’s old-world stumbling blocks

What’s tougher than developing a fully autonomous car? Managing a continuously operating fleet of them.

Waymo, whose ever-expanding fleet is logging in excess of 25,000 miles every day, lifted the curtain in a new interview with The Verge on the behind-the-scenes complications it’s encountering in managing its massive driverless squadron.

“At the heart of that activity is the company’s 70,000-square-foot depot, where its fleet of autonomous vehicles are tended to by teams of technicians, engineers, and mechanics, as well as customer service reps and product managers. …

“A day in the life of one of Waymo’s self-driving minivans typically starts around 5AM. That’s when the first ‘pre-flight check’ begins. Waymo builds all of its self-driving sensors in-house, including cameras, radar, and LIDAR. Keeping this hardware in tip-top shape is the job of the company’s fleet technicians, who conduct regular maintenance checks on the self-driving systems.

“Next, the dispatchers determine where to send the vehicles based on trip data gathered from the company’s Early Rider program. This determines how long it takes for a Waymo vehicle to respond to a trip request from an Early Rider. … Waymo still uses backup drivers in most of its trips. So, for now, the minivans return to the depot around midday for shift swaps, so the backup drivers get a break from what can be a fairly mind-numbing task: monitoring a self-driving car. …

“Waymo’s Early Rider program recently became a 24/7 operation, in anticipation of the full-service launch. That means more designated driving opportunities for its cars, and more cleanup duties for Waymo’s depot teams. No one has barfed in a Waymo vehicle as of yet. …

“[W]hile Waymo’s team of technicians handle the software updates and sensor calibrations, Avis’ employees handle the oil checks, tire rotations, and other tasks. But the 72-year-old car rental company sees its role as bigger than just a glorified car wash for Waymo’s robot taxis. For Avis, this is an opportunity to hedge its bets against big changes in the future”

3. The Auto(nomous)bahn

4. Know it before your competitors

Our best-in-industry intelligence service, The Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.

The Console monitors, digests and packages everything of consequence to your business: television and radio chatter, social media scoops, legislative and regulatory activity, legal filings, acquisitions and white papers.

A service of Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs, which yokes traditional legal capabilities to government affairs, corporate competitive analysis and strategic communications, The Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform. Click here to request a no-obligation demonstration of the service with James and Eric.

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Eric Tanenblatt

About Eric Tanenblatt

Eric Tanenblatt is the Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation of Dentons, the world's largest law firm. He also leads the firm's US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

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James Richardson

About James Richardson

James Richardson is a strategic communications counselor with 15 years’ experience advising presidential candidates, Global Fortune 500 executives, national nonprofits, and sovereign governments on strategic communications and reputation management. He helps lead Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs practice.

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