Happy New Year and 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. Look to the blockchain
General Motors has filed a patent application in the United States in which the car giant proposes a blockchain solution to manage the gobs of data transmitted and processed by autonomous vehicles.
- Blockchain for Dummies: Imagine a spreadsheet that has been duplicated across a huge constellation of computers, each one capable of consuming and transmitting information in real time to the broader network. Each update is instantly registered across the full network, meaning the data is both public and verifiable. And because there’s no central depot for all that data, but it’s simultaneously stored across an expansive network instead, it’s harder to hack.
- You can start to see why, for a technology that’s uniquely dependent on accurate and secure data, that might be appealing.
The application describes a system in which blockchain could allow for the secure, interoperable exchange of data between mutliple automated vehicles and other key entities, including municipal and public authorities. Because autonomous vehicles require that.
- Why it’s notable: The platform as envisioned would allow for the sharing of highly practical, confirmed information, including real-time navigation data and the availability of gas stations or electric vehicle recharging stations, as well as a conduit to fee-based services, such as tolls, parking and car washes.
- It’s also yet another signal that car companies are no longer merely greasy metal benders, but sophisticated drivers of avant garde technology.
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2. Trunk space
- Before you chortle: Much of the requisite componentry for automated cars is housed in the vehicle’s trunk, which means that Toyota has managed the engineering feat of condensing all that bulky equipment without (hopefully) compromising safe operation.
Speaking of CES: Send us your photos and tips all next week if you’re in Vegas for the occasion.
3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- Arizonans are continuing to harass autonomous vehicles on public roads. One as-yet-unidentified motorist has repeatedly driven into the wrong lane to barrel head-on towards multiple Waymo self-driving vans. It’s become so bad that the chief operating officer of Valley Metro, the regional transit system in and around Phoenix, has taken to explicitly telling people to stop throwing rocks.
- Will a delayed 5G deployment hamper mass applications of automated vehicles if carmakers can’t find a solution to data latency?
- Dubai’s transportation authorities launched the emirate’s first self-driving ride-hailing pilot this week.
- GM announced this week that it had sold its 200,000th plug-in vehicle in the United States, triggering a phaseout of the $7,500 federal tax credit. The sales achievement makes it the second carmaker to lose the tax credit behind Tesla.
4. The munchies
General Motors’ self-driving unit, Cruise Automation, announced a deal Thursday with on-demand food courier DoorDash for restaurant and grocery delivery in self-driving cars, the latest departure from the automaker’s halcyon business model of making and selling cars to ordinary consumers.
The pilot will launch in March and operate in San Francisco, where Cruise has already been testing vehicles for the previous three years.
Ninety miles inland, at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, PepsiCo announced at the same time that it would begin making deliveries of snacks and drinks to students with the use of self-driving robots. The last-mile pods, developed by Robby Technologies, will move at a cautious speed of 6 miles per hour.
Last year, Kroger, Walmart, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Domino’s all signaled that they would start or expand autonomous grocery and food delivery.
But you should expect to see at least another dozen join their ranks in the first two quarters of the new year as companies look for an early edge in the automated last-mile delivery race, which Ford Motor Co. last year estimated could exceed $130 billion in just seven years.
5. Know everything AV, all the time
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