By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — December 18, 2016 — The emergence of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is a hot and trendy topic these days. Collision Repair magazine provides a weekly look at some of the developments in the field, including Uber’s current battles with the state of California, GM’s CEO saying the company will start testing AVs and Ford looks at drones to help self-driving cars navigate.
– Google has officially spun-off its self-driving car project into its own company, one called Waymo.
– Uber is in a battle with the state of California over a test of self-driving cars in San Francisco, according to a report in The Guardian. One of the cars has been photographed going through a red light. That no-no sparked a backlash against a company that is not known for getting along with regulators. For its part, “Uber blames humans for self-driving car traffic offenses,” as California orders a halt to its self-driving car projects. Last week Uber, “.. launched semi-autonomous vehicles in San Francisco without permits, [but] was ordered by the California department of motor vehicles (DMV) to immediately remove its cars from the road or face legal action.”
Uber, “…has not publicly responded to the state’s demands, blamed the traffic light violations on ‘human error’ and suspended the drivers who were monitoring the cars. This bold deflection of blame further highlights the corporation’s refusal to take responsibility for potential faults in its technology and raises questions about the dangers of prematurely rolling out self-driving vehicles.”
According to the story, “…Uber has an obvious financial interest in a system with minimal regulations. By ignoring California regulators, the corporation is attempting to preemptively create a framework in which self-driving cars are treated similarly to traditional vehicles …”
– Trump has named the CEOs of Uber and Tesla as strategic advisors. According to a story on TNW, “Trump announced that he has added Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to his Strategic and Policy Forum, which comprises of business leaders who will advise him on economic affairs.” The report notes that, “In November, Musk said that Trump was ‘not the right guy’ for the presidency, and last October, Kalanick said, ‘Oh my god, Donald Trump’s gonna win. I’m going to move to China if Donald Trump wins.’”
– In a bid to not be left behind in the self-driving space, GM CEO Mary Barra on Thursday told Fortune the automaker will immediately, “… begin testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in Michigan just days after Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills legalizing the operation of autonomous vehicles in the hope of restoring the state’s image as an center of automotive innovation … Barra also announced Thursday that the Orion Township assembly plant, the same factory that produces the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, will produce the next generation of autonomous test vehicles beginning early next year.” According to Barra, “We expect GM will become the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles in a mass production assembly plant …” The new Michigan laws, “… allow testing of vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or needed human control—an important allowance that aims to propel Michigan ahead of California, a hotbed of driverless car development.”
– Also last week chip-maker Nvidia began test-driving autonomous cars on California roads, “…after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles gave it the green light, according to a report in The Verge. “The company is testing its Drive PX2 autonomous driving platform….Its Drive PX2 technology will be used in vehicles participating in the upcoming Roborace autonomous car race. Nvidia this fall rolled out Xavier, a system on chip for autonomous cars…” Tesla now uses the Drive PX2 on the self-driving hardware available in the new Model S according to the report. Nvidia will use the Drive PX2 on a self-driving car being built Chinese company, Baidu.
– A car-based drone? Ford announced this week it is studying a system to, “… use drones to help guide self-driving vehicles, including on off-road adventures … Drones launched from an autonomous vehicle would help guide it by mapping the surrounding area beyond what the car’s sensors can detect. Vehicle passengers can control the drone using the car’s infotainment or navigation system.”
– The promise of automated vehicles is being taken up by city administrators looking to solve transportation issues. According to a story on Slate.com, “Cities across the country are cutting public transportation because they think ride-hailing services will fill the gap.” These cities will come to, “…regret it,” according to the story.
Apparently, over the past 12 months, bus and train riders on the peripheries of cities like Philadelphia, Oakland and Tampa have, “… been treated to a little luxury at the end of the commute: a publicly subsidized Uber ride home. It’s the hot new solution to the ‘last mile’ problem.”
It sounds like a good solution, but according to the Slate story, “There are serious concerns with such programs: For starters, the savings are in part derived from trading public-sector employees like bus operators for low-wage stringers like Uber drivers …” As well, “The rise of ride-hailing companies is increasingly viewed not as a fix for bad service but as its justification. It is invoked, as you might expect, in bad faith by conservatives who have advocated against public investment for decades. But even pro-transit politicians and officials have begun to see ride-hailing services as an acceptable substitute for public transit. As a result, cities across the country are making important decisions about transportation that treat 10-year-old companies as fixed variables for the decades to come.”
– The US Department of Transportation announced this week that it is, “…proposing a rule to require vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology in new cars,” according to a report on The Verge. “Vehicle-to-vehicle systems, or V2V, allows cars to communicate to each other in an effort to warn drivers about potential accidents and prevent crashes. The basic technology uses dedicated short-range radios to allow for the cars to communicate, and can send data such as location, speed, direction, and braking status
– A report from major global business consultant McKinsey finds that, “As the high-tech and automotive worlds merge—with four disruptive technology trends driving change—a complex ecosystem is creating new rules for success … This shift in customer preferences and the sheer size of the automotive sector have attracted new players: a potent mix of large high-tech companies and start-ups … These new entrants and the disruptive trends they bring—electrification, autonomous driving, diverse mobility, and connectivity—will transform typically vertically integrated automotive value chains into a complex, horizontally structured ecosystem.”
The report expects the emergence of a new industrial sector. “Attracted by the shift in customer preferences, the importance of the new trends, and the global automotive market’s massive size and value-creation potential, technology players are making their way into the sector. As they develop new software options, cars are evolving into computers on wheels, a change similar to events in the computer industry 20 years ago and the cellphone industry 10 years ago. As a result, we anticipate that a complex ecosystem will emerge in the automotive sector,” says the report.