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

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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.

  • Only days earlier German firms BMW and Daimler said they would pool some 1,2000 technicians together to work on a shared autonomous Level 4 stack. The two announced in March they had plans underway to work together.
  • It was long ago that Honda purchased a $750 million stake in General Motor’s self-driving division, Cruise Automation. And don’t even get us started on the tie-ups between carmakers and specialized software or chipmakers.

What began as a sharp-elbowed moon race is looking more and more these days like a casual fun run.

Exit comment: Tesla, the electric car maker who says its cars have been collecting mountains of self-driving background data while operating in “shadow mode,” is the singular exception to sudden cooperative spirit overwhelming the industry. Even Waymo, the prohibitive self-driving leader, has thrown in with ride-sharing platform Lyft to help take its technology to scale

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2. Safe.

Autonomous vehicle recognition of other vehicles on road.

Nearly a dozen prominent self-driving firms have just published a new joint manifesto describing a legal and technological framework for the development, validation and deployment of road-ready autonomous vehicles.

The document (PDF), titled “Safety First for Automated Driving,” was authored by Tier 1 suppliers Aptiv and Continental; chipmakers Intel and Infineon; mapping startup HERE; search giant Baidu; and carmakers Audi, BMW, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen. It lays out 12 safety-by-design principles to which a self-driving car must adhere, including:

  • Safe operation: how the car copes with system degradation or failure and operation becomes hazardous;
  • Safety layer: how a system recognizes its limitations and prompts or transfers control safely to a human driver;
  • Predictability: how a car behaves in traffic must be easy to understand and predictable for others on the road; and
  • User responsibility: Driver’s seat-passengers must be in a state suitable to resume operation if needed;
  • Vehicle initiative handover: If driver does not comply with takeover request, the car must have systems and programmed maneuvers in place to minimize risk.

3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

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