By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — May 9, 2018 — In this week’s AV Report: The Ontario government announces details of its AV program, ride share data suggests the taxi industry is basically dead, sidewalk-based AV test expands, and much, much more!
The Ontario government is moving ahead with its autonomous vehicle (AV) program. The traditional home of the auto industry in Canada, the city of Windsor, will have a role in the new program. A story in the Windsor Star notes that, “Windsor and London will be at the vanguard of autonomous vehicle research after being named one of just six regions in Ontario to participate in an $80 million innovation and development project. The six Regional Technology Development Sites were officially announced this week after an eight-month application process. They will be part of the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.” The provincial government will spend $80 million over five years for the program. According to the Star report, “Windsor and London, which make up the Southwestern Ontario Region, will each receive $2.5 million. The other regions are Durham, Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo. Each region, which has a unique focus area, will share information and best practices with the others.” According to the report the research in Windsor will address the potential challenges of driverless vehicles approaching a border crossing. There is a new bridge being built at the Windsor-Detroit border. There are already two border crossings in the area that carry a quarter of the trade between the U.S. and Canada. The research will ensure that as this infrastructure is built it can adapt to the technology as it rolls out. Cybersecurity will be a big part of this focus says a source in the story. “You can imagine how much of a disaster it would be if an autonomous vehicle could be hacked. [For] our region, when we talk autonomous vehicles, it’s not just passenger carriers. We’re looking at autonomous trucks, autonomous movement of freight,” said a source quoted in the story. About 11,000 trucks and 15,000 cars cross the Windsor border every day. It is hoped that the technology to be developed could potentially be adapted for use at other border crossings around the world according to the story. According to the source, “This will help us attract students that want to do research and study in this field. It will help us attract entrepreneurs and start-ups. And maybe it attracts foreign direct investment as the car companies come in and work, invest and buy some of it.”
Many have assumed that business travellers would never travel in a privately owned car such as those used by ride-sharing firms such as Uber and Lyft. The belief has been that business travellers will always prefer taxis. But recent stats suggest that is not the case, and that ride-sharing is “systematically decimating” the rental car and the taxi industries. According to a new quarterly report tracking ride-sharing trends this mode of transportation now accounts for more than 70 percent of the ground transportation market for business travellers. It seems even business travellers are happy to ride in a personally-owned car if it means saving money.
Another interesting take away from statistics contained in the report is that one of the most prominent individuals who have had their business disrupted by this trend is Trump lawyer and taxicab owner Michael Cohen. According to a media report, “With the ride-hailing companies grabbing 70.5 percent of the market, taxis and rental car companies are now fighting over crumbs, with rental cars getting 23.5 percent and taxis just 6 percent of ground transportation receipts. In Q1’14, just four years ago, ride-hailing was a mere 8 percent of the business traveller ground transportation market, while rental cars were 55 percent and taxis were 37 percent.” In traditional taxi strongholds such as Chicago and New York, ride-sharing now accounts for, “nearly 75 percent of all business traveller ground transport expenses in Q1 2018.” As a consequence, “thousands of New York taxicab owners are now ‘upside down,’ as the value of their medallions (the license needed to operate a taxi) has dropped to about $163,000 from more than $1 million over the past four years, amid ride-sharing’s irresistible rise. One of the most currently prominent New York taxicab owners is Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who with his wife owns some 32 medallions. But like many taxicab owners, the Cohens took out loans based on the value of the medallions. It’s reported that their loans, like those of other taxicab operators, are now underwater, while their revenues have declined. Additionally, it’s been reported that the Cohen’s taxi companies have piled up unpaid taxes and fines. In Chicago, about half of the Cohen’s 22 medallions have been suspended since January for non-payment of insurance.” That is, according to the story, “The culprit for Cohen’s financial issues was not a political rival of President Trump, or the $130,000 the attorney allegedly paid for Stormy Daniels’ silence, but the wrenching changes brought by Lyft and Uber.”
Another measure of the remarkable rise of the ride-sharing phenomenon is found in stats collected by financial news publisher Bloomberg. A study carried out by the organization finds that, “About 20,000 new vehicles were added to fleet-based, car-sharing businesses in the first quarter, boosting the global total to more than 200,000. At the end of April, there were more than 900 million active users of digital hailing apps worldwide and 48 million drivers.” Also according to the report, “Connected and autonomous vehicle companies raised almost $400 in private investment in the first quarter.”
Could AVs get a bad name in the wake of recent accidents and deaths involving self-driving cars? Worry about whether the entrance of AVs onto North American roads is occurring at too rapid a pace is a question that continues to be debated. One media report this week notes a, “schism is developing in the driverless car world. On one side are driverless car advocates who believe data transparency will lead to safer deployment of driverless vehicles and help alleviate public fears about the strange and disruptive new technology. On the other are some automobile and technology companies that, for good commercial reasons perhaps, prefer to keep their workings cloaked in mystery.” According to a source in the story, “The lack of transparency about the workings of sensors, logic processors, mapping systems and other driverless technology, like the debate over robot-car regulation, could shape public perception of the nascent industry. Essentially, [the public will be] looking to see whether these companies are trustworthy.”
A media report this week speculates that the Pentagon will be the first organization to widely deploy AVs. The story notes the U.S. undersecretary of defence for research and engineering appeared at a hearing on Capitol Hill this month. He is quoted as saying, “We’re going to have self-driving vehicles in theatre for the Army before we’ll have self-driving cars on the streets. But the core technologies will be the same.” Fifty-two percent of casualties in combat zones can been attributed to military personnel delivering food, fuel and other logistics. Removing people from that equation with systems run on artificial intelligence could reduce injuries and deaths significantly. According to the undersecretary, “You’re in a very vulnerable position when you’re doing that kind of activity. If that can be done by an automated unmanned vehicle with a relatively simple AI driving algorithm where I don’t have to worry about pedestrians and road signs and all of that, why wouldn’t I do that?” The story goes on to say that the Pentagon has, “a long history of support that helped to develop or refine key technologies that become widespread later, including space flight and the internet. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been funding research into self-driving cars for years and sponsored its first competition for the vehicles in 2004. With an annual budget of almost $700 billion, the Pentagon can afford to aggressively pursue autonomous vehicle technology. [The] Army wants to start testing light, fast remote-controlled tanks with the same firepower as the current 70 ton manned M1 Abrams tank within the next five years. Offshore, the Navy is seeking help developing technology for the next generation of large and extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles to incorporate artificial intelligence. Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the largest and second-largest U.S. contractors, are competing on the program, with a critical design review scheduled for December.”
It has been reported previously in this space that a company named Starship Technologies is developing delivery robots that can move along sidewalks autonomously. A story appeared in the UK media this week noting that the company now has plans to expand its operations from two areas to twenty by 2019 and will deploy a fleet of a thousand ‘beer cooler’ sized devices. According to the report, “The machines have a top speed of 16.1 km/h and in busy areas are accompanied by a human minder. The firm claims none has been stolen or vandalised, with 100,000 miles of delivery journeys completed so far.” The next phase of testing will see the robots put to work at 20 university and work campuses across the U.K., U.S. and Germany. “They can travel up to three miles and are fitted with ultrasonic sensors for detecting obstacles, nine cameras, radar and GPS. Upon arrival, the recipient of the parcel receives a text message containing a link to unlock the robot,” according to the story. The robots can already deliver 200 of the most common grocery items via robot in the town of Milton Keynes in the U.K. According to Starship’s vice president of marketing, “These campus environments are like robot playgrounds. In Hamburg we are delivering spare parts and tools between buildings and to people’s desks. Sorting offices in some businesses are becoming overloaded as people order more personal deliveries to their workplace. Anything that can fit in the robot we can deliver.” Mercedes Benz is also using the robots to deliver parcels at its buildings internally.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has released its Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Report for 2017. The report has become a key document in the AV world. A lot of testing is happening in the state and the DMV has been collecting data on how often it is that human drivers need to take over from the computer during on-road tests. More to come on the latest results next week, but what was surprising in the latest report was the number of companies that are now carrying out road tests of AVs in the state. The list of the manufacturers in the 2017 report includes: Baidu USA, Delphi Automotive/APTIV PC, Drive.ai, GM Cruise, Nissan, Telenav, Waymo and Zoox.