By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — July 22, 2016 — The autonomous vehicle (AV) space generated a lot of interesting headlines in the last week, including Elon Musk’s second “Master Plan” for Tesla, a self-driving bus built by Mercedes-Benz and poor, lonely Ontario still can’t find anyone to test AVs here.
– Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has revealed his second “Master Plan” through his official Tesla blog. He revealed that the company would introduce a crossover SUV and a pickup, and also noted that the company will move ahead with its Autopilot feature, despite the widely-publicized death of a driver in May.
“The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability,” writes Musk. “According to the recently released 2015 NHTSA report, automotive fatalities increased by 8 percent to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day. It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named.
“It is also important to explain why we refer to Autopilot as “beta.” This is not beta software in any normal sense of the word. Every release goes through extensive internal validation before it reaches any customers. It is called beta in order to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve (Autopilot is always off by default). Once we get to the point where Autopilot is approximately 10 times safer than the US vehicle average, the beta label will be removed.”
– Cars that drive themselves “should be able to account for themselves,” according to a report filed by Reuters on a new German law that will apply to AVs. Germany will require that a so-called “black box” be installed on every AV so that any accidents or crashes can be reconstructed from data, similar to the way the events leading up to a plane crash are recorded. “The law also requires that drivers remain seated at the wheel while a self-driving system is operating, but specifically allows that a human behind the wheel not have to pay attention to traffic or concentrate specifically on surrounding traffic,” according to the report.
– Michigan is already building its second AV test-driving site, according a recent article from Fortune. Ontario, which passed a law allowing AV testing, has yet to see a single company take up the offer.
– In another Fortune article out this week, Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, said he is not investing in any AV companies. His investing approach is not about, “|assessing how much an industry is going to affect society, or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage. The products or services that have wide, sustainable moats around them are the ones that deliver rewards to investors.” in the article, Buffett noted that there “have been about 2,000 American car manufacturers, most of them active at the dawn of the automobile age, but only Detroit’s big three survived. Similarly, in aviation there were about 300 manufacturers in existence from 1919 to 1939; only a handful are still around today.” That is, he’ll wait to see what companies emerge out of the thousands that will pop up in the years ahead before he lays his money down. The article goes on to point out that, “In retrospect, Buffett was right about the dot-com era. Only a few stocks survived the bust and went on to thrive, and while you could have made a bundle betting on Amazon.com or Priceline.com, many more companies like Pets.com and Webvan ended up folding. Similarly, while the smartphone has made a fortune for Apple investors, it’s also led to busts for companies like Blackberry, Nokia, and others … Buffett is focused on durability of competitive advantage. In the autonomous vehicle industry, there are simply too many variables in play for an investor like Buffett to make a smart bet.”
– A Mercedes-Benz self-driving bus drove for about 20 kilometres around the Netherlands recently on a test trip. The bus handled traffic lights and had to “pass through tunnels, and navigate among pedestrians,” according to a report on Tech Crunch. The “Future Bus I” was fully networked and so it communicated with traffic lights along the route for cues. As well, “An onboard close-range camera array also manages ‘fingerprint’-level recognition of asphalt detail, comparing it against previous trips to watch out for variances and keep things on track,” according to a report. The vehicle hit speeds of up to 70 km/h, navigated “to raised bus stops along the route, slowing down and stopping to pick passengers up, pulling to within 2 inches from the curb.” The report went on to say that while short-range autonomous buses are already being deployed in privately-owned, self-contained routes around the world, “what this Mercedes pilot shows is a successful real-world test of what could be a core component of future pubic transportation system.”
You can check out a video on the project in the player below.