The Driverless Commute: VW and Ford to partner on AVs, latest in long string of tie-ups; 11 companies unveil safety-as-design principles, offering closest thing to industry standard; and Lyft tests its cars on blind passengers

1. Big tabs and hard realities.

Going-it-alone is, like, so 2018.

Volkswagen and Ford, one-time rivals fast sobering to the costs and difficulty of engineering next-generation cars, said Friday they would pool resources in the development of autonomous vehicles. Under the long-rumored deal, VW will invest upwards of $2.6 billion into Ford’s self-driving unit, which was already valued at $7 billion before the tie-up.

The agreement is the latest in a string—so many, in fact, that we’ve lost count—of fiercely competitive carmakers cooperating to develop self-driving technology.

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The Driverless Commute: Apple stuns with Drive.AI acquisition; did Florida go too far in new AV bill?; Toyota throws in with Baidu’s Apollo project; and Waymo rolls out limited partnership with Lyft in Arizona

1. Assumptions and expectations

Apple, the famously secretive consumer electronics giant, said this week it had acquired self-driving startup Drive.AI, whose human-robot interaction systems and deep-learning approach earned it an outsize reputation in the autonomous constellation.

The days of going-it-alone are behind us.

  • Like many struggling to reconcile real-world deployment challenges (it turns out, engineering self-driving cars is a lot harder than marketers promised) with stratospheric expectations, Drive.AI had come into hard times recently. According to reports, it filed paperwork ahead of the Apple announcement that it intended to dissolve and lay off its entire workforce.
  • Previously, the company had a variety of splashy pilots under its belt, including a recent test in Texas in which human contingency drivers had been removed from some vehicles.
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The Driverless Commute: Cities aren’t planning for AV deployment and that’s a problem; NHTSA is weighing rewrites of car and commercial vehicle rules; US lags global rivals over lack of national legislation

1. Urban (not)planning

Cities were once highly compact and walkable places that blended residences and workplaces and where people commanded primacy. But that was before the automobile.

Cities were once highly compact and walkable places that blended residences and workplaces and where people commanded primacy. But that was before the automobile.

Now, the modern American city is nothing if not an ecosystem in service of these two-ton forces of congestion. Add up all the 18-lane highways and surface streets, the sprawling blacktop parking lots and sky-high decks, and you find that more than 60 percent of some cities’ precious downtown real estate has been devoted in some way to cars.

Depending on your preferred expert, autonomous vehicles will either reverse or accelerate the very worst symptoms of car-oriented urban planning: congestion, pollution, sprawl.

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The Driverless Commute: If AVs take more risks now in early-phase deployment, will they be safer in the long-term?; big electrification news on both coasts; an electrified future for LA while Trump is open to spending on EV charging networks.

1. Humans can’t stop rear-ending slow-moving autonomous vehicles. But who’s to blame: the human, whose behavior mirrors norms if not law, or the paralyzed robot?

Car collision

When autonomous vehicles have been involved in collisions, four years of data teach us that it’s almost always been the fault of a human driver. At least, that’s the black-and-white view generally held by law enforcement.

But autonomous vehicles are so strictly engineered to obey the rules of the road and to avoid statistically dangerous maneuvers that it begs the question whether this overly cautious approach to driving is inviting more chaos within the exiting mobility framework.

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The Driverless Commute: A light pollution solution in AVs; Tesla-taxis; and Waymo’s app is up for download

1. Seeing in the dark

Nighttime skyline

A new paper published this month in the journal of Science and Engineering Ethics posits that autonomous vehicles could help break the industrialized world’s addiction to artificial nighttime light.

  • Light pollution from cars, street and parking lot lamps all wreak havoc on our natural world. Seduced by the other-worldly glow of towers and lamps, insects are lured to their doom, baby turtles are beached and birds crash and clatter.
  • Street and parking lot light represent some 90 percent of all outdoor illumination from the industrialized world.
  • 1.6 percent of all energy consumed globally is poured into streetlights while headlights consume roughly 3 percent of vehicular fuel.
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The Driverless Commute: Disengagement reports from China to California and lessons for AV sector in jet crashes

1. Beijing just issued AV report cards. Here’s why you should use California’s instead.

China autonomous vehicles  - Beijing AV report

Beijing transportation officials offered this week a first, if severely constrained, glimpse into the country’s autonomous vehicle industry, saying in a new report that eight licensed self-driving firms had logged more than 150,000 kilometers on public roads last year in the Chinese capital.

Ninety percent of that distance was managed by just one operator, search giant Baidu, which also leads the pack in number of test vehicles.

Reports on test driving stats for self-driving vehicles by various autonomous vehicle firms.

Notably absent from the government’s report are measures of disengagements, though a parallel report by a private think tank using voluntary data described 23 situations in which safety drivers were required to assume control of the cars.

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The Driverless Commute in Law360: What’s Ahead For Autonomous Vehicle Test Driver Regs

Autonomous vehicles are layered with complex, still-emerging technology. As a result, what makes driverless cars tick is a mystery for virtually the entire public. That dynamic itself shouldn’t be all that’s concerning: We routinely interact with technology of which we have little understanding. But when it comes to driving, a task humans have controlled for generations, the thought of surrendering the wheel to a code-based operating system is uniquely unsettling.

Autonomous Vehicles - Car Interior

Empirically that should not be the case. Conservative estimates show that 94 percent of vehicle accidents are caused by human error. Autonomous vehicles, operating at peak performance and constantly communicating not only with traffic lights and stop signs but also with other vehicles and pedestrians, should significantly reduce, or even eliminate, car accidents, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care and repair costs.

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