Driverless Commute – January 12

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

1. Mobility ecosystems all the rage at CES 2018

The world’s preeminent technologists huddled in Sin City for a week of one-upmanship, lifting the curtain with rising fanfare for the pieces of technology they say will shape the new year and beyond (touchscreen-embedded fingerprint readers are in, and Google’s aiming to claw back Amazon’s Alexa takeover).

But among car makers who presented at the tech show we noticed a distinct trend: casual flirtation, and even outright courting, of mobility-as-a-service platforms.

Ford unveiled its new delivery partnership with on-demand delivery service Postmates and said it would begin piloting the service later this year in an as-yet-unannounced American city. More, and why this announcement speaks to a broader alignment of priorities (likebecoming the OS for AVs), from Fortune: “The pilot program with Postmates was just one of several announcements Ford CEO Jim Hackett made Tuesday during his speech at CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas. But it’s notable because it ties into a much larger Ford vision and strategy to create an ecosystem of communication and services that future cities loaded with autonomous vehicles might need. Ford also announced an open cloud-based platform for cities to use to orchestrate and manage all the disparate transportation modes happening at any given time as well as a partnership with Qualcomm for Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X, a wonky term that basically means everything in the city such as stoplights, signs and even bikes can speak to each other and share information.”

Meanwhile, the notoriously conservative Japanese carmaker Toyota unveiled ambitious plans for a train car-like concept vehicle, the e-Palette, that it’s billing as a blank slate for autonomy. The new platform—we’ll call it an open chauffeur system—will be made available in three sizes to accommodate the unique needs of customers (ride-hailing, delivery logistics, etc.). The vehicle will be unveiled at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and the company said it will begin testing in the United States in the “early 2020s.” Already, Toyota has inked deals with Amazon, Didi Chuzing, Pizza Hut and Uber.

Money quote from Toyota President Akio Toyoda: “This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers.”

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2. First

General Motors, long regarded as Detroit’s leader in the autonomy race, is poised to release the first market-ready self-driving car. Just this week, the company submitted its federal safety checklist to US regulatory authorities. The car would be the first to ditch steering wheels and acceleration and braking pedals.

From the Detroit News: “The petition filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seeks permission to deploy the autonomous cars, built on the Chevrolet Bolt EV platform, next year. It also asks permission to meet 16 safety requirements ‘in a different way,’ Paul Hemmersbaugh, GM’s chief counsel and public policy director for transportation and service, said on a conference call. The Detroit automaker is gearing up to meet its deadline for deploying a driverless ride-hailing service next year in a yet-to-be-named city. If the federal safety highway agency approves GM’s petition, the automaker could build up to 2,500 of these vehicles per year, though the automaker has not committed to a firm production plan.

Gaining federal approval is no small step, nor is it guaranteed. Federal safety regulation language revolves around human drivers and vehicles engineered to be piloted by a human driver — as opposed to artificial intelligence. GM is attempting to prove to the federal government that it can maintain safety equal to what is already required, but without a human or the steering wheel. And even if GM gains federal approval, it still has to negotiate at a state level. There are only seven states in which the Cruise AV could deploy immediately after federal approval, including Michigan. The other six are North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Colorado and Nevada” (Emphasis added.)

3. No-freeze zone

Even today, your phone or computer still hang. But what happens when the computer powering an autonomous vehicle skips a beat? Barring redundancies, bad things.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, speaking at tech dinner panel on the eve of CES, said one of the biggest hurdles to full autonomy is computer reliability. Says Huang: “These computers can’t fail. Imagine a computer that can’t fail. My laptop still hangs after all these years. So how do you design a computer that detects it failed and continues to operate? So that when it fails, it doesn’t fail.” In practical terms, Huang concluded, the challenge of fail-proof computing means that true autonomy is still years away.

More from Huang, as reported in Fortune: “There is a $10 trillion mobility industry—from cars to trucks to buses to ‘mobility as a service’—that stands to immediately benefit from the solution to this problem. With autonomous technologies applied to a specified highway route, for example, you can extend the driving range of a long-haul trucker by two or three hours. You can see similar successes with passenger cars by limiting their autonomy in different ways, Huang said, such as by geography or application. ‘There are a lot of different ways to skin this cat,’ said Huang … But ‘the idea of driving a car that’s completely driverless everywhere in all conditions? That fantasy car won’t be here for five to 10 years.’”

Watch Huang’s talk here.

4. The Googliness factor

Baidu, often (and, to our guess, frustratingly) referred to as “China’s Google” by the international press, said this week it hopes to build the Android of autonomous vehicles: an open-source self-driving platform that’s free to anyone who wants to use it. (You’ve heard your Driverless Commute correspondents speak often of the Android-iPhone rivalry, borne out in the race toward autonomy.) The Chinese search giant, unlike its US rival, is a relative newcomer to the autonomous space, having launched its driverless project, dubbed Apollo, only five years ago. But Baidu hopes its distinctly-Google gambit—making its platform free and available to anyone who means to apply it and share data and best practices—will give it the advantage over its more entrenched competitors.

More, from Bloomberg: “Baidu is attempting to match rivals like Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, whose cars have already plied millions of miles free of direct human control. While companies based in America have been able to test their vehicles on public roads, local Chinese governments only recently allowed portions of its infrastructure under select conditions to be used by autonomous vehicles. But by open-sourcing its technology in a manner similar to Google’s Android operating system, Baidu is hoping to supercharge the development of its technology and become China’s leading driverless car developer. It’s partnered with over 90 providers from Blackberry to chipmaker Nvidia Corp. Apollo will support four main computing platforms — Nvidia, Intel, NXP and Renesas — in 2018, it said in a statement.”

5. And the world spins forward (except for Canada)

Within the past three weeks a raft of world governments, including the United States, China and Spain, have announced new testing regimes for AVs. Canada, on the other hand, was just rapped by a government-funded technology council for its flat-footed response to autonomy developments.

First, the US: “Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced today four efforts to collect information on automated vehicle technologies as DOT works to develop a third iteration of driverless car guidelines. The next policy update will emphasize an intermodal approach to driverless systems to include cars, trucks, ports and light rail, according to DOT. Three modal agencies are now seeking comments from transportation industries, the requests for which Chao announced in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show today.

NHTSA is soliciting input on “any regulatory barriers” to automated technology testing and certification for vehicles, specifically those designed without controls — like a steering wheel or brake pedal — intended for a human driver. FHWA is seeking information on how to integrate automated driving technologies into the existing U.S. highway system, such as which roadway features are significant for automated systems to perform safely and whether state of good repair affects that ability. FTA is asking for more information on existing automated transit bus technologies and on potential areas for future research. The agency is also seeking comment on any regulatory or policy impediments to developing and deploying buses for automation levels 3 through 5.”

Second, China: “Beijing’s Municipal Commission of Transport announced provisional regulations for testing self-driving cars on city roads. Companies that are registered in China and have tested self-driving cars in enclosed spaces can now apply for permission to test their vehicles on Beijing’s bustling roads. … In addition to purchasing insurance for every vehicle, the regulation requires that firms place a human safety driver behind the wheel who can take control in unexpected situations. A committee made up of experts in transportation, telecommunications, automobiles, computer science, and law will evaluate the road-testing work.”

Third, Spain: “The Spanish road safety authority, the Directorate General of Traffic (DGT), is to collaborate with Intel-owned Mobileye to develop vision and data analysis for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles. The planned partnership will seek to both reduce road accidents and help prepare Spain’s national road infrastructure – as well as government regulatory policy – for fully autonomous vehicles when they become a reality. … The two organisations will work together on a campaign to promote the benefits of ADAS for both municipal and private fleet operators to support road safety, as well as conducting joint research to determine the precise magnitude of safety improvement that can be driven by Mobileye’s 8 Connect ADAS sensors.”

Bringing up the rear, O Canada!: “Canada is lagging behind when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology development and adoption and must fast-track policy to spur innovation that could potentially add thousands of high-skilled jobs to the economy, according to a new report released Thursday. The report by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), titled, Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Work in Canada, says there needs to be greater integration between policymakers, industry and academic experts in order to facilitate investment in autonomous vehicle technology in Canada ‘at a rate closer to our international competitors.’ … Namir Anani, president and chief executive of the ICTC, said while Canada has made strides in the last year with new autonomous vehicle testing, there are many areas where technology and policy could be fast-tracked to spur growth in the field and potentially attract direct foreign investment. For example, Anani saidCanada should fast-track spectrum auctions for fifth-generation mobile technology—something he says is a key ‘lifeline’ in enabling innovation for autonomous vehicles. Canada could also accelerate the deployment of a regulatory framework when it comes to testing autonomous vehicles.”

6. Sunset years

The largest retirement community in the United States will soon feature autonomous vehicles on its winding Florida streets. The Villages of Florida, situated just north of theme park hub Orlando, is home to 25,000seniors, 750 miles of road and 3 city centers. In other words, it’s an ideal Level Four testing ground. (Bonus: You don’t have to worry about spry pedestrians darting in front of your robocab.)

Udacity’s robocab spin-off Voyage said this weekit had begun testing its self-driving fleet within the retirement community, and would roll out a “door-to-door self-driving taxi service to residents” within the first quarter. (The same company had already tested a smaller driverless fleet at a sister retirement community, in San Jose, CA.)

From a company release: “When fully operational, all 125,000 residents will have the ability to summon a self-driving car to their doorstep using the Voyage mobile app, then travel anywhere within the bounds of the community fully autonomously.”

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.

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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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