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.
Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, will launch the world’s first commercial autonomous car service next month.
The service, which will operate under a new name, will initially be restricted to dozens or hundreds of pre-approved customers in Phoenix, AZ, where the company has been piloting self-driving ride-hailing for more than a year now.
Waymo, which began life nearly a decade ago in Google’s secretive moonshot unit, has jealously guarded details of its technology stack and deployments. So-called “early riders,” a group of some 400 Phoenix-area families, must sign non-disclosure agreements and are barred from offering lifts to unapproved friends and family.
Riders in the new service, however, will be free to discuss their experiences with the media and to invite others along for a ride. (Hint: You can invite your friendly Driverless Commute correspondents along.) Initially, fares will be competitive with other ride-hailing services, but analysts expect prices to fall once the service removes contingency drivers and offers in-ride entertainment or advertising.
But why the new name? By launching its commercial offering under a new name, Waymo preserves its brand as a deeply researched platform that can be sold and repurposed to power the self-driving efforts of laggard carmakers or logistics companies.
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2. And you get spectrum, and you get spectrum, and you get spectrum
The Federal Communications Commission recently signaled it would reassess how the radio spectrum intended for wireless communications should be allocated, potentially repurporsing a band of spectrum that for more than 20 years had been reserved for only automotive applications. The move puts the telecommunications and automotive industries on a collision course given the staggering variety and volume of data both will consume as the world around us is faced with ever-growing demands for wireless connectivity.
Carmakers haven’t done much with their spectrum share (until recently, at least), and tech companies have become increasingly vocal in their desire to see those underutilized airwaves reassigned. Now the FCC is considering a proposal to allow cars and wi-fi services to share the same frequency, but some consumer advocates worry the move could have long-term safety implications.
“The last thing you want is to be approaching an intersection and your kids are streaming a video in the back seat and a car is about to run a red light but you don’t get the safety message,” one expert worried to Axios.
3. Cold water
Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle unit has logged over 10 million miles and will take to market the world’s first self-driving car service later this year, but the company’s chief executive remains notably circumspect about the technology’s deployment and constraints.
The technology required to autonomously pilot a car successfully is “really, really hard,” John Krafcik, Waymo CEO, said at a Wall Street Journal panel this week. His cautious forecast:
- It’ll be decades before AVs are ubiquitous;
- The day may never arrive when AVs can safely function in all weather conditions; and
- The trucking and logistics industry will benefit first and most from driverless tech.
4. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- A rolling red-light district?
- Ford and Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will test driverless grocery delivery in Miami.
- Volkswagen, Mobileye and Champion Motors will tie-up to bring self-driving cars to Israel in 2019.
- South Korea’s government is working on a comprehensive regulatory regime to govern autonomous vehicles, including new insurance and liability rules.
- The UAE, similarly, is working towards the same goal.
- Waymo, in partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will attach red ribbons to its fleet to raise awareness of drunk driving during the holiday season.
- Volkswagen’s new budget apportions $50 billion, roughly one-third of its total outlays, for electric and autonomous efforts.
- A UAE-based electric carmaker says it will be the first to unveil a Level 5-capable car at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
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