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. Robbing Peter to pay Paul
Autonomous ridesharing will eliminate highway gridlock; be more efficient than well-worn transit modes, like buses; and be cheaper than personal car ownership.
And it’ll all happen in 5 years. Or 10. Or 30.
With no genuine consensus about how and when the driverless revolution will arrive, you can understand the creeping panic that’s begun to consume urban transportation planners and transit advocates who say that cities are trading important short- and mid-term mobiliy solutions for half-baked forecasts that ultimately may never arrive.
That tension—policymakers’ pursuit of an equilibrium between transit solutions that meet today’s needs and strategic long-term investments in hyped, but as yet unproven, technologies—is the subject of a new piece this week in the New York Times:
“In Indianapolis, Detroit and Nashville, opponents of major transit investments have argued that buses and trains will soon seem antiquated. In Silicon Valley, politicians have suggested something better and cheaper is on the way. As New York’s subway demands repairs, futurists have proposed paving over all that rail instead for underground highways.
“Autonomous cars have entered policy debates—if not car lots—with remarkable speed. And everyone agrees that making the wrong bets now would be costly. Cities that abandon transit will come to regret it, advocates warn. Driverless car boosters counter that officials wedded to ’19th-century technology’ will block innovation and waste billions. …
“If you believe that autonomous cars will compete with transit rather than complement it—or that autonomous ride-hailing will give cities that never built transit something like it—there is appeal in holding out now.”
Indeed, conservative groups in the US have begun leveraging the futuristic promise of autonomy to defeat transit plans in traffic-plagued cities like Nashville, TN, and Little Rock, AR, where voters roundly rejected ballot proposals to expand light-rail and buses.
Cities’ inflexibility in planning for driverless cars could cost them hundreds of millions in economic activity, but in this era of municipal austerity will taxpayers be comfortable with city councils making such huge bets?
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2. The Auto(nomous)bahn
- The government of New South Wales, Australia, will deploy two driverless shuttle pilots aimed at students and the elderly later this year, it announced this week.
- Waymo has logged a total of 8 million autonomously driven miles on public roads, more than double the number it had managed to accrue as of last November. The dramatic acceleration is possible because its 600-minivan fleet, which will grow exponentially over the next two years as it folds in new purchases from Chrysler and Jaguar, is driving 25,000 miles every day.
- Putting the tractor out to pasture: Japanese diesel engine maker Yanmar is launching a line of autonomous farm equipment.
- Apple has grown its fleet of driverless cars in California by 11 vehicles, bringing its total number of experimental cars to 66.
- Voyage, the senior mobility-focused AV startup, has hired as its first chief technology officer an engineer steeped in some of Silicon Valley’s most notable driverless initiatives.
- This parking reservation service is helping to prepare garages for driverless cars.
3. Consumer appetites as driverless tea leaves?
A new global survey of drivers from 28 countries has found that Indians are the most eager to see driverless cars navigating their roadways.
Researchers tracked general-if-cautious interest in the technology across the developed world, but enthusiasm was especially pronounced in Asian nations like India, where road accidents are responsible for some 400 deaths per day.
Even as consumer safety advocates in the West grouse that driverless cars are nowhere near road-ready, headlines about a crashes—including some fatal ones—have not tempered interest and desire in Asia. In fact, roughly half of Indians told pollsters they want a driverless car.
Could a willingness to overlook early stumbles in testing and deployment give the East—especially China, whose government has already normalized national testing rules and whose technology sector is close on the heels of Silicon Valley’s—an advantage over the risk-averse West?
4. Don’t wait for the news once a week
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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.