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.
In the buzziest self-driving announcement in weeks, Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the United States, said Thursday it will begin testing autonomous last-mile grocery delivery later this fall.
The grocer already offers home delivery for shoppers at roughly half of its 2,800 stores, but now customers will be able to remotely shop and receive goods from diminutive driverless pods developed by Nuro, a startup founded by two veterans of Alphabet’s self-driving unit Waymo.
The announcement didn’t specify the location of the pilot, but the company hinted that California or Arizona would host it.
How it’ll work:
- After placing an order on Kroger’s online shopping portal or Nuro’s app, customers will be able to track their delivery before being prompted to meet the vehicle at the curb.
- Using a special PIN or biometric, a climate-controlled compartment will open to reveal the shopper’s order.
- Initially, a human safety driver will be on-hand but will not exit the vehicle to unload its contents, in part to begin training customers for an eventual user-experience that is completely robotic.
A 2016 study by McKinsey estimated the cost of global last-mile delivery somewhere around $86 billion with an annual growth rate of about 10 percent owing to the rise of e-commerce.
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2. Speed read
- Audi’s self-driving unit has hired Cognata, the Israeli cloud-based vehicle simulator, to help validate its autonomous technology before it deploys for real-world testing. The deal is the latest in a string of tie-ups between car makers and Israel’s constellation of technology startups, whose military and drone expertise has made the country a leader in the global autonomy race.
- Waymo is eying a tie-up with an as-yet-unidentified European car maker, who would provide “a large number” of cars in an aspirational expansion bid that would leave its brand subservient to a more established, local identity, the company’s chief executive said in an interview this week with Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper. “In Phoenix, we are launching under the Waymo brand,” CEO John Krafcik said. “In Europe we would choose a different approach because our brand is not well known in Europe. We would cooperate with a European car brand.” He added that all the cars Waymo has already purchased (or agreed to purchase) from Chrysler and Land Rover have been earmarked for exclusive use in the United States.
- Udacity, the online for-profit education clearinghouse, has launched a six-month “nanodegree” program to train autonomous car engineers.
- Michigan-based autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility this week launched Detroit’s first commercial self-driving shuttle service, which will ferry employees of a commercial real estate firm between its remote parking site and the company’s office a mile away.
- The acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, the US agency that supports state and local governments in the design, construction, and maintenance of the nation’s highway system, said at a symposium this week that the federal government is striving to afford the self-driving industry significant latitude to test and deploy experimental cars. “We don’t want to mandate the technology because we don’t want to hinder innovation,” FHWA Acting Administrator Brandye Hendrickson said, adding that she didn’t see the need for a defined regulatory framework at this phase. “We want to be careful not to be over predictive.”
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4. Comeback kid
Uber, whose driverless pilots were grounded after a fatal collision five months ago in Arizona, will resume testing by August, according to a report this week by technology tabloid The Information.
At the same time, Uber is moving to demonstrate that its technology is road-ready, announcing to employees a plan to implement 16 safety recommendations after an internal audit of the Arizona incident. Among the changes, Uber said it will be adding a second safety driver, investing in road simulations, and developing new ways to measure vehicle safety and employee performance.
Volkswagen and four autonomous technology suppliers—Aquantia, Bosch, Continental and Nvidia—launched this week a new industry alliance to standardize the back-end ecosystem needed to power driverless cars.
The Networking for Autonomous Vehicles (NAV) Alliance will push for a collaborative framework capable of shouldering the massive amounts of data produced and consumed by autonomous vehicles, the group announced. Specifically, the NAV Alliance said it will “work to develop a high-speed, multi-gigabit ethernet network that can transmit data between a self-driving car’s various cameras, lidar and radar sensors, and onboard computers as quickly as possible.”
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