On August 22nd, we got a reminder of the need for not only consortia in the autonomous vehicle realm, but for a more comprehensive cooperative mentality. As Daisuke Wakabayashi documented in The New York Times’s “Apple Scales Back Its Ambitions for a Self-Driving Car,” this gigantic company found out that, for once, it couldn’t go it alone, and that, contrary to what it often has found, there was serious competition out there. Accordingly, it has “put off any notion of an Apple-branded autonomous vehicle,” most likely since “it was a do-it-all approach typical of Apple, which prefers to control every aspect of a product” that failed here. Horses for courses.
That same day, one of the myriad areas under investigation got Salon journalistic attention in “Making driverless cars safe for people on foot.” Author Michael Clamann named some concerns, such as the need for pedestrians and cars to communicate and the value of a “standard nontext symbol” to indicate an autonomous vehicle. Everything in this category, though, rates to be resolved along the way.
Along with the grocery service mentioned two weeks ago, “There’s a Pizza Delivery in Ford’s Future, By Driverless Car.” This August 29th Neal E. Boudette New York Times piece addressed Domino’s’ efforts, to start testing that week in automated-vehicle hub Ann Arbor. Boudette properly asked “will people mind coming out of their house?”, which they well might in nearby Detroit, and noted that these vehicles will of course start with “safety drivers” behind the wheel but not operating them continuously. This one should succeed, especially since the compartments from which customers will take their orders will be heated.
Perhaps “self-driving Smart wants to set you up” (Gary Gastely, Fox News, August 30), but it can’t quite do that now. Befitting the size of their meatmobiles, that company’s Fortwo “electric autonomous urban people moving pod” concept car looks like a bulge with wheels. It’s ahead of its time, even more than others; if they would be as cheap to make and run as they look, there could be tens of millions on our 2040 roads.
On September 10th, The Motley Fool in Fox Business issued “3 Top Driverless Car Stocks to Buy Now,” and came up with three excellent choices. It called for Tesla, which is reaching farther than the immediate future by making vehicles capable of full automation, integrating them with their front-line electric-power innovations, and planning on a way for “owners to rent out their autonomous vehicles when they’re not using them.” It also recommended Ford, which is continuing its rivalry with GM to even more success in this area, and NVIDIA, as strong a component maker as exists. There may be a Duesenberg or a Cord in these companies, but more likely they will last much longer, and could make their shareholders quite wealthy.
We got a look at internal autonomous-vehicle software in “Waymo simulation is teaching self-driving cars invaluable skills” (Saqib Shah, Yahoo Finance, September 11). The product contains “a replica of every real-world mile the autonomous cars have driven,” which must take up a staggering amount of memory, and allows practicing dealing with conditions that weren’t actually present, determination of strategies, and propagation of them to other vehicles. A fine, unobtrusive, and ultimately quick and less expensive way of gaining capabilities.
As for the other huge American automaker, Daily Sabah told us, on that same day, “GM ready to mass produce self-driving cars once regulations allow.” There’s more to it than that, and it seems too early for anyone to build more than about 1,000 copies of any model – so we’ll believe that when we see it.
To autonomous vehicles, a year has been an eternity. So how much does it mean that “Tesla Self-Driving System Faulted by Safety Agency in Crash” (Neal E. Boudette and Bill Vlasic, The New York Times, September 12th)? Not much, especially when we see that the National Transportation Safety Board’s judgment was not a technical finding. That Florida accident, caused by driver inattention more than anything inherent to the car, since which there have been over 50,000 dead due to less publicized operator errors, should now be put to rest.
On that day, the federal “Department of Transportation releases new self-driving vehicle guidelines” (Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch). This classic “living document” runs 36 pages and is more a set of recommendations than a group of new laws. It, generally, continues our government’s appropriately loose control here. You can read it at https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/12/department-of-transportation-release-new-self-driving-vehicle-guidelines/. That has more to recommend it than “Teamsters chief fears U.S. self-driving trucks may be unsafe, hit jobs” (David Shepardson, Reuters), which is as self-serving and devoid of credibility as we might think. Union chief James P. Hoffa “said the union was not trying to hold back technological advancements,” but, according to this report, that’s exactly what he wants to do. I sympathize with anyone heading an organization within a decade or two of vast shrinkage, but see no real merit to his complaints.
We finish this installation with documentation of two more business moves, “Intel just added another automaker to its self-driving project” (Harsh Chauhan, The Motley Fool in Business Insider, September 12), and “Samsung steps up push into autonomous driving technology (Associated Press in Fox Business, September 14th). The car manufacturer is Fiat Chrysler, which joins BMW, Mobileye, and Delphi Automotive under the chipmaker’s umbrella, which will begin testing Level 4-capable vehicles later this year. The Korean juggernaut seems to be starting a consortium of its own, since it acquired navigation and other technology company Harman earlier this year, and looks perfectly suited for heading up driverless efforts on the southern half of its peninsula.
Another three weeks down. We take a break from autonomous vehicles next week, in favor of the October jobs report, but you can expect more November 10th.