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.
German luxury auto group Daimler AG won approval last week from the Chinese government to commence a driverless pilot on public roads in car-dense Beijing, becoming the first Western automaker to receive a testing license in the country, the MIT Technology Review reported.
With the green light, Daimler said it will presently deploy experimental Mercedes-Benz Level Four vehicles with technology developed in collaboration with local partners.
The new permit, the company said, came after extensive closed-course testing and required that it retrofit its vehicles with additional technical applications from Baidu’s open-source autonomous driving platform to meet the unique demands of China’s complex traffic dynamics.
(It wasn’t immediately apparent to your Driverless Commute correspondents whether the inclusion of Baidu tech was an explicit condition of the application process, or if Daimler merely believed it would help it meet a technical requirement.)
This time last year, the Stuttgart-based car giant made its first ever investment in a Chinese startup, taking part in a $46 million Series B funding run by high definition mapping service Momenta.
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2. The Auto(nomous)bahn
- Chinese search giant Baidu announced it had accelerated production of its fully self-driving Apolong bus to meet its goal of shipping the 14-seater model to Japan by early 2019. Last week saw the company’s 100th bus come off the assembly line, moving the company closer to successful commercialization of autonomy.
- The National Governors Association, a nonpartisan conference of US governors, released a report Thursday that proposed a series of regulatory best-practices for states interested in allowing autonomous vehicle testing. They include: “Designate a lead agency … Establish an interagency workgroup … Collaborate with local and federal agencies and policymakers … Retain oversight and maintain regulatory authority over testing … Establish a robust training program for law enforcement … Explore public-private partnerships between AV operators and regulators.” Get the report (PDF) here.
- Speaking of governors: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would have allowed for the public testing of driverless cars, saying the measure included insufficient safety protocols. The move is one of the first to block a driverless regime among the states.
- Six in ten Americans told Gallup that they’re uncomfortable with driverless cars. The new numbers come as Democrats in the US Senate continue to block autonomous vehicle legislation over safety and privacy concerns.
- Toronto is considering using driverless shuttles to connect far-from-public-transportation residents to rapid transit options, hoping to solve one of public transportation’s most persistent problems: first-mile/last-mile connectivity.
- General Motors has trademarked the name “AV1,” prompting speculation that the carmaker had settled on a name for its first autonomous model. When GM brought its first all-electric car to market in 1996, it christened it the EV1.
3. Crystal balls
- American families that transition from car ownership to ridesharing could save thousands of dollars annually on transportation costs, according to new research by online insurer Esurance. With ubiquitous, cost-efficient autonomous ride-sharing, two-car households that offload one or both vehicles in favor of robocabs could pocket $4,100 each year. But those savings, the report said, are heavily predicated on where people live (urban vs suburban or rural) and their willingness to embrace ridesharing.
- A new Boston-based study found that driverless cars will increase traffic congestion in downtown areas while easing it in suburban rims as people move toward autonomous ridesharing and away from public transit.
4. When watercooler talk isn’t enough
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