AV Weekly Roundup

US AVs Lapping Chinese in Beijing

BEIJING, China–The autonomous Lincoln MKZ started turning left at a Beijing intersection when a speeding truck aggressively cut in front of it. Sensors in the car detected the approach and instantly froze it in place. But that put the Lincoln directly in the truck’s path, so Baidu Inc. engineer Sun Lei grabbed the steering wheel, spun it to the right and floored the accelerator to get out of harm’s way. The truck zoomed by as Sun’s colleague in the passenger seat calmly took notes on a tablet computer – just another learning exercise for the self-driving fleet being tested around the nation.

“We hope to see more interventions during the road tests so that we can improve our technology,’’ said Calvin Shang, general manager of strategy and operations for Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group. “It won’t help if you only run the cars on simple routes even for 10,000 or even 100 million miles.’’

Read the whole story at Bloomberg

Feds Moving Slow on Self-Driving Cars and States Are Fine With That

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Electronic chimes sounded as the self-driving minibus halted its crawl through the parking lot of an upscale office park here. There was no obvious reason for the stop, so its operator made a note to report it, then used a touch screen to restart the shuttle’s test drive.

The bright red, 12-passenger vehicle, which maxes out at 12 mph and was designed by French firm EasyMile, is part of an effort to use autonomous technology to improve access to transit stations in the area. But first, as the unscheduled stop on a breezy April day showed, the shuttle needs extensive testing to make sure it’s safe for public roads.

California regulations allow testing of self-driving vehicles, even as a lack of federal rules prohibit commercial sales or interstate travel. That means the EasyMile vehicle can legally operate on public streets in a limited capacity.

California in 2012 became one of the first states to enact rules of the road for vehicles using various levels of automation, spurred by what was then Google’s self-driving project — now Waymo, a separate unit of the Alphabet parent corporation — and other home-state developers.

A 2016 state law allows the testing at Bishop Ranch, a 100-acre office park about 20 miles east of San Francisco. There are 30,000 workers here, including employees of General Electric, AT&T, Chevron and Toyota.

The federal Transportation Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have so far offered only guidance and requested autonomous vehicle developers to submit voluntary safety self-assessments. And despite high-profile bills in both chambers during the 115th Congress (2017-18), federal lawmakers have yet to enact an autonomous vehicle law, leaving states as the primary forces shaping policy.

Read the whole story here at Roll Call

Uber Needs Robo For Profitable Future

A billion dollars. That’s how much Uber has spent on developing driverless technology so far. The hefty figure is hardly surprising, given most of the company’s revenue cash goes toward paying human drivers. Road-going robots promise to fix this, ultimately boosting Uber’s balance sheets.

The ride-hailing giant isn’t alone. Some of the world’s largest automakers and tech manufacturers are betting on a future where self-driving technology is profitable and ubiquitous.

Why shouldn’t it be? Without drivers to pay, businesses save. Some of those savings are passed on to consumers through lower fares that undercut the cost of traditional car ownership. Society subsequently abandons said ownership in droves, opting instead for robotaxis. At least that’s what we’re told. The reality, however, is very different.

Read the rest of the story here

MIT Asks–AVs and Public Health: High Cost or High Opportunity Cost?

Driverless does not mean humanless. Machines trim the need for human labor but seldom, if ever, purge that need entirely.

The reason is simple. Algorithms err, and when they do, the results can — particularly in industries such as transportation — be deadly. This seldom-discussed reality explains why regulators have never signed off on safety-critical systems being used without human oversight. Public servants know that for all their virtues, machines can’t be trusted to always get it right all the time.

Driverless car developers know this, too. Their solution? Remote control. The idea is simple. When a robotaxi malfunctions, a human intervenes to ensure passenger safety. However, rather than sitting inside the car, these “teleoperators” are located in a command center far away. Think of it as air traffic control for cars. Yet, while the setup may be lauded on safety grounds, it raises an interesting question — how many robotaxis should one teleoperator watch? The ideal answer for bean counters is as many as possible. But can one person really help a distressed vehicle while keeping an eye on several others? Would you feel safe knowing your teleoperator is watching 10, 20 or perhaps 100 other robotaxis?

Yet the real problem posed by driverless technology isn’t related to its algorithmic imperfections or safety oversight concerns. Rather, the price. Even if the technology were flawless, the cost of hailing a robotaxi would still be pricier than personal vehicle ownership today.

The reason? The taxi industry is inefficient — so inefficient that cabbies spend only a fraction of their time earning fares. The rest is spent finding them. In cities such as Beijing, 40 percent of taxi miles are driven with the back seat vacant. In Seattle, that figure rises to 60 percent. This improper matching of supply with demand carries consequences. For human cabbies today, it means less take-home pay; for driverless cab companies tomorrow, less savings that can be passed on to consumers. And less savings ultimately impacts consumer willingness to abandon traditional car ownership.Rehash, not reality

This reality seems lost on the likes of Uber. Company execs seem to spend much of their time rehashing corporate talking points about the benefits of self-driving technology. In a driverless world, emissions will drop, congestion will ease, and productivity will rise.

About 1.3 million people die every year in road accidents. Countless more are injured. Most of the blame lies with human drivers for doing things such as texting while driving, drinking and driving, and napping while driving. Driverless technology promises to fix this. Machines, after all, don’t get distracted, drunk or drowsy. The result? A solution to what the World Health Organization has called a public health crisis.

China Holds Race Without Drivers

China’s road to mastering driverless-car technology is bumpy and full of surprises — literally. Just ask those attending the country’s top autonomous-vehicle race .

In hot and windy conditions this week in the eastern city of Tianjin, dozens of self-driving cars raced for glory. On a circuit covering an area of 10 soccer fields, they navigated through bumps, sudden turns and artificial fog. Even fake cows and sheep suddenly crossed their paths for good measure. Some teams wreaked less havoc than others.

Go to Bloomberg for whole story

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