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 autonomy.
1. Cruising nowhere fast
Some six months after Cruise Automation, General Motors’ aggressive self-driving unit, petitioned regulators in New York State for a permit to pilot driverless cars in the dense chaos of Manhattan’s busy streets, the firm is still awaiting consideration by state officials.
Cruise turned heads when it signaled in October it wanted to deploy its Level Four cars within a geofenced five-square mile section of lower Manhattan, saying the potential pilot presented the opportunity to expedite development and deployment wholesale by exposing its software and systems to the “unusual situations” of America’s biggest and busiest city.
According to a spokesperson, Cruise has already mapped “a significant portion” of New York City, but still has not received the necessary approval from state regulators–even as the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, hailed the company’s application as a marker of the state’s appeal to the automotive and AI sectors.
A 2017 press release from the governor’s office boasted that “sustained testing in Manhattan in early 2018” was made possible by a driverless car legal framework he had recently authorized. It took a determined effort for it to finally arrive by Spring, but we don’t think you can reasonable rate May as “early 2018.”
Let this be a lesson to the rest of you: Government will never keep pace with industry, even when it tries.
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2. “Train self-driving cars!”
As questions about the qualifications, preparedness and training of contingency drivers for experimental autonomous vehicles continue to bedevil the industry (no uniform training standards exist or are mandated by government, and most companies are decidedly opaque about their hiring processes), we were interested to find among Craigslist’s classifieds an advertisement for safety driver gigs with Cruise in San Francisco.
From the listing, which says drivers will earn an hourly wage of $23 in five installments of 8-hour shifts each week:
“As an Autonomous Vehicle Trainer, you will help us test and improve the performance of our driverless cars. … You should have strong attention to detail, basic technical skills, and an excellent driving record. … You will be expected to keep certain project details confidential. …
“You will: Work in teams, take turns between (i) driving (some manual driving but primarily monitoring the vehicle’s behavior in autonomous mode and taking over when necessary), (ii) software monitoring and logging responsibilities, and (iii) providing remote assistance; Complete timely and detailed ride reports for our operations and engineering teams.”
The listing stated that applicants must have at least three years of licensed driving experience in the US, have a clean driving record, and be able to pass a background check and drug screening.
3. Comeback kid
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said this week that the ride-share giant would recommence its driverless program “within the next few months” and pledged “it’s going to be in as safe of a way as possible.”
Khosrowshahi was reluctant to say precisely when Uber, which is still cooperating with a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of its fatal crash in Arizona earlier this year, would make its return to the roads.
But don’t necessarily expect a comprehensive, pilot-for-pilot restoration of its driverless program when it attempts to navigate a post-Tempe landscape.
Following the March incident, Uber announced that it would forgo reapplying for its self-driving permit in California. Should it wish to reinitiate testing in the Golden State (where it had just 29 driverless cars to begin with), the company would be required to reapply with the state Department of Motor Vehicles and “address any follow-up analysis or investigations from the recent crash in Arizona,” per a letter from the DMV’s chief counsel.
Probably on the table for that meeting, should it occur: Uber’s announcement this week that it believes it understands why (and how) the fatal collision occurred. Specifically, according to reports, the car’s suite of sensors allegedly spotted the pedestrian but software regarded the detection as a “false positive” and thus elected not to initiate evasive action. As a reminder, there was a contingency driver present in the driver’s seat, but the safety driver was believed to be distracted in the critical moments before impact.
4. Crystal ball
Demand for autonomous taxis will skyrocket by the year 2026, positioning Waymo to capture fully 60 percent of the global robocab market by the year 2030, according to a new analysis by investment bank UBS.
That same year, according to the UBS forecast, some 26 million autonomous taxis will be operating on public roads. All that growth in autonomous taxi fleets would represent 12 percent of all car sales, the bank said.
But even as the robocab market swells, UBS projected private car sales would slip by only five points. (In contrast, KPMG predicted last year that AVs could be responsible for a 50 percent drop in the US sedan sales by 2030. And think tank RethinkX estimates that 95 percent of miles driven in the US in 2030 will be logged by on-demand, autonomous fleet vehicles.)
5. First to know, first to act
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