Testing on the private roads in GMs Technical Center campus in Warren was already underway before the passage of the legislation, which is known as the SAVE Act. Now that the automaker has the go-ahead from the nation, the operation will expand to include roadways around metro Detroit in the coming months. In those areas, trials will focus on the autonomous tech’s development in winter weather conditions.
Revolutionizing transportation for our clients while improving safety on roads is the goal of our autonomous vehicle technology, and todays proclamation get us one step closer to making this vision a reality, told General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra in the official statement. Our autonomous technology will be dependable and safe, as customers have come to expect from any of our vehicles.
The automaker has been testing the self-driving Bolts on public roads in San Francisco and Scottsdale since June, with more than 40 autonomous vehicles logging miles in the two cities.
Michigan’s self-driving statutes have one very concrete caveat: Merely technology produced by automobile producers are allowable.
That means that if Uber, for example, were explore a pilot testing program, it would run into some of the same issues it recently faced in San Francisco. There, the state challenged the company’s legal right to have its tech on public streets without “re going through” the proper DMV channels. Notably, GM Cruise LLC is one of the 20 entities to which the California DMV has issued a permit.
With Google set up in the country and other automakers rearing to hone their own self-driving tech, Michigan could once again become the center of innovation in the automotive world. This time around, the automation steering the industry forward won’t just be on the assembly lines it’ll be right out on the streets.
The sun had only just come up Friday, but the young self-driving car industry had already moved into a new era. From the bench, federal Judge William Alsup, recovering from a sore throat, called it: “This case is now ancient history.”
Waymo v. Uber, the first great legal fight over autonomous vehicles, ended in a peace treaty Friday morning: Uber gave Google’s sister company a 0.34 percent stake in its business (worth $245 million or $163 million, depending on how you count Uber’s worth), and pledged not to use any of Waymo’s software or hardware in its vehicles. “I want to express regret for the actions that have caused me to write this letter,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a statement posted on the ride-hailing company's website.
Waymo had alleged that when longtime Google engineer Anthony Levandowski resigned to start his own company, he took thousands of vital technical documents with him, including blueprints for the lidar laser sensor he had helped develop. Uber bought Levandowski’s startup a few months later for almost $600 million in equity and put Levandowski in charge of its struggling self-driving R&D effort. In Waymo’s telling, Levandowski and Uber used Waymo trade secrets to accelerate their efforts.
In large part, the lawsuit encapsulated the stakes in the early days of an industry that’s now booming. Back then, a good lidar system was so rare and coveted that it might be worth stealing. A single engineer like Levandowski, who helped found Google’s self-driving car team a decade ago, could merit a palace coup. And just two companies—Google, the progenitor of self-driving tech, and Uber, the virile challenger eager to convert its millions of human-operated cars into much more profitable robots—command nearly all the headlines and attention of anyone eager for a world where human drivers are a lol-worthy memory.
That world looks different now. More than 20 companies are currently developing lidar, making the sensor more necessary commodity than secret sauce. A pedigree like Levandowski’s loses its luster as a new generation of engineers, trained in robotics and machine learning, emerges. At least half a dozen companies not involved in this brouhaha have proven they can make cars drive about without human help. Waymo v. Uber was a fight over a once jealously guarded technology that today verges on commonplace. And now that the suit is settled, everyone can turn to the next chapter in the textbook, the one where all the companies grow up and figure out how to deploy the thing they’ve all created.
“This is evidence that the autonomous driving problem is not going to be solved by a single silver bullet,” says Shahin Farshchi, a partner at the venture capital firm Lux. “It’s a matter of building many things and getting many things to work together.”
As any good historian will tell you, a moment like the Visigoth-induced fall of Rome in 476 or Judge Alsup’s decree that “there’s nothing more for me to do here” doesn’t really trigger an epochal shift. It’s just a convenient marker. The transition from developing self-driving technology to actually deploying it happened independent of this case. Even before Waymo filed its lawsuit, others were turning a horse race into a stampede: General Motors acquired self-driving startup Cruise. The mysterious startup Zoox started testing in San Francisco. Waymo alum Bryan Salesky decamped for Argo AI and partnered with Ford. Former Google self-driving chief Chris Urmson founded Aurora and is now working with Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Chinese automaker Byton.
Of course, the settlement has tangible effects. First, Uber lives. The threat of a billion-dollar penalty or an injunction that could shut down its entire self-driving program has evaporated. As Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick testified, the company sees autonomous vehicle tech as vital to its existence. If someone else figures out how to run a taxi service without a driver before Uber does, then Uber loses.
Uber wins that second life pretty cheaply, too. No money changes hands as part of this deal; Waymo receives a mere 0.34 percent stake in the ride-hailing company. Each party in the lawsuit will pay its own lawyers. And with that, Khosrowshahi ticks another box off his lengthy Fix Uber list, which also included a house cleaning after the company revealed it had paid off hackers following a 54-million-account security breach and an apology tour in London for safety infractions.
Waymo, meanwhile, maintains its position at the head of the self-driving pack, and shows competitors it’s willing to bleed a bit to stay there. “It was great from Waymo’s perspective to put everyone on notice: ‘We take our leadership position seriously and we will go hammer and tong after anyone who will upset that,”’ says Reilly Brennan, cofounder of the transportation-focused venture capital firm Trucks.
That goes for its own engineers, too. Pierre-Yves Droz, Waymo’s current lidar technical head, testified Thursday that, OK, yes, he had taken an outdated version of one lidar setup to Burning Man. And yes, he had taken two other versions home (with his bosses’ permission). Uber lawyers seemed prepared to argue that this wanton toting-about of self-driving tech proved that Waymo’s lidar wasn’t a trade secret after all. You have to hide stuff for it to be a secret.
So expect no more lidar shows at Burning Man, and no more carelessly protected servers. It’s time for the self-driving space, Waymo included, to grow up and be diligent about keeping their tech in-house. This is a real industry now. The money is still theoretical, but the autonomous vehicle market could be worth $7 trillion by 2050, according to a 2017 Intel report.
Protecting intellectual property means telling employees what is and what isn’t secret—especially if they’re about to leave. “The critical juncture to reinforce those expectations is in the exit interview,” says John Marsh, a lawyer with the firm Bailey Cavalieri. “The employer says, “Hey, by the way, you signed this agreement about trade secrets when you started here; if you have questions, come see me. I expect you’re going to abide by this.’”
In the abridged trial, an Uber lawyer asked Waymo hardware engineer Sasha Zbrozek whether anyone at Google looked for activity that signaled someone was downloading huge numbers of files.
“No,” Zbrozek responded. “But nobody monitors when you get water from the fridge either.”
The time for such freedom could be ending. As autonomous driving technology approaches reality—the you give someone money to ride in this thing kind of reality—expect better defined policies and lots more rules. And maybe a camera watching the water dispenser, too.
The engineer at the heart of the upcoming Waymo vs. Uber trial is facing dramatic new allegations of commercial wrongdoing, this time from a former nanny.
Erika Wong, who says she cared for Anthony Levandowski’s two children from December 2016 to June 2017, filed a suit in California this month accusing him of transgressing a long listing of the jobs laws. The objection alleges the failure to pay wages, labor and health code violations, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things.
Yet in this unusual 81 -page complaint, Wong also theorizes about a large swath of Levandowski’s personal and business dealings. She reports a great variety of details, including dozens of overheard names, the license-plate numbers of cars she observed at a Levandowski property, and an extensive listing of the BDSM gear she claims he kept in his bedroom.
Though the lawsuit contains some obvious inaccuracies–such as stating that Levandowski is a resident of Oakland County, California, which does not exist–Wong’s asserts raise new the issue of Levandowski’s business conduct. In her grievance, Wong alleges that Levandowski was paying a Tesla engineer for updates on its electric truck program, selling microchips abroad, and creating new startups employing stolen trade secrets. Her objection also describes Levandowski reacting to the arrival of the Waymo lawsuit against Uber, strategizing with then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and discussing fleeing to Canada to escape prosecution.
Levandowski’s outside dealings while employed at Google and Uber have been central topics in Waymo’s trade secrets suit. Waymo says that Levandowski took 14,000 technical files related to laser-ranging lidar and other self-driving technologies with him when he left Google to work at Uber. He is not a party to the original Waymo complaint against Uber, however, and no criminal charges have yet been filed against him. Levandowski has consistently exerted his Fifth Amendment rights and not responded to allegations in that suit.
A statement on the Wong lawsuit from Levandowski’s spokesperson is unequivocal: “On January 5, a frivolous lawsuit was filed against Anthony Levandowski in US District Court. The accusations in the lawsuit are a work of fiction. Levandowski is confident that the lawsuit will be dismissed by the courts.” Little is known about Wong, who did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. She says in the complaint that a medical background earned her a higher-than-average salary for a nanny; that she had taken statute classes; and that she had produced a short movie on Sebastian Thrun, who led the early development of Google’s self-driving car.
God Is a Bot, and Anthony Levandowski Is His Messenger
New Evidence Could Blow Open the Uber/ Waymo Self-Driving Lawsuit
The 37 -Page Letter That Could Make Uber’s Problems So Much Worse
Once upon a time, automobile companies were in charge of, you know, constructing vehicles. They put that widget against that thingamajig and bolted and bolt until the whole thing hanged together–a thing you could buy and own and drive. No longer. Increasingly, vehicle companies–and proportions suppliers, and car-sharing startups, and ride-hailing giants–are in the business of data. Collecting it, compiling it, selling it.
This week, we got a few good looks into how these mobility-focused companies are use your data. Ski resorts are especially good at this, I report, and might be a model for the much-discussed, little-defined “smart city”. Uber launched Express Pool, a new service that asks riders to walk a block or so before fulfilling drivers. Based on pilots in two cities, Uber thinks it can get people, and especially passengers, to use their app more regularly thanks to this slightly less convenient, slightly less expensive service. And Cadillac’s eventually showing off the fruits of 130, 000 miles of laser-based mapping, which its Super Cruise function uses to drive by itself. But not, as transportation editor Alex Davis writes, everywhere–not yet.
It was a week! Let’s get you caught up.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
Alex spent two weeks with a Cadillac CT6 equipped with General Motors’ Autopilot challenger, Super Cruise. The semiautonomous feature can drive on most American and Canadian highways–but not everywhere. He talked to the team behind the feature, and discovered its secret comes down to lasers. A plenty of them.
Uber launched its first new product in three years, Express Pool, in eight cities. It’s a shared ride, but users have to walk a block or so to reach an ideal pick-up spot. And in this style, Uber are formally come for your commute, I report.
Speaking of commuting: Electric, dockless e-bikes might be the future. Fleets, which are slowly rolling out in cities all over the US, are challenging traditional bike-sharing, buses, car-sharing, and yeah, perhaps ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. But only if their manufacturers can keep the speedy things charged.
Transportation companies and the cities where they operate are increasingly interested in your data: info about how you get around, what you buy, and where you go every day. But if they want to get better at utilizing it–to improving their own lives with its revelations–they just might turn to a ski resort for tips-off. It seemst those wintertime wonderlands are very good at knowing all about you.
Cryptojacking–hacking into a server to utilize it for cryptocurrency mining–is a new technique, but it has already pulled down a big fish: Tesla. The cloud monitoring firm RedLock tells it procured the vulnerability and informed the car company of the infection. A Tesla spokesperson told WIRED security reporter Lily Hay Newman that the breach only affected internally engineering exam vehicles, and that vehicle nor driver security was compromised in any way.
In the past five years, autonomous driving has gone from “maybe possible” to “definitely possible” to “inevitable” to “how did anyone ever think this wasn’t inevitable?” Every significant automaker is pursuing the tech, eager to rebrand and rebuild itself as a “mobility provider” before the idea of car ownership goes kaput. Waymo, the company that emerged from Google’s self-driving car project, has been at it the longest, but its monopoly has eroded of late. Ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber are hustling to dismiss the profit-gobbling human drivers who now shuttle their users about. Tech giants like Intel, IBM, and Apple are looking to carve off their slice of the pie as well. Countless hungry startups have materialized to fill niches in a burgeoning ecosystem, focusing on laser sensors, compressing mapping data, and setting up service centers to maintain the vehicles.
And cars that drive themselves are now everywhere. They’re prowling the streets of California and Michigan, Paris and London, Singapore and Beijing. This 21st-century gold rush is motivated by the intertwined forces of opportunity and survival instinct. By one account, driverless tech will add $7 trillion to the global economy and save hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few decades. Simultaneously, it will devastate the auto industry and its associated gas stations, drive-thrus, taxi drivers, and truckers. Some people will prosper. Most will benefit. Many will be left behind.
It’s worth remembering that when automobiles first started rumbling down manure-clogged streets, people called them “horseless carriages.” The moniker made sense: Here were vehicles that did what carriages did, minus the hooves. By the time “car” caught on as a term, the invention had become something entirely new. Over a century, it reshaped how humanity moves, and thus how (and where and with whom) humanity lives. This cycle has restarted, and the term “driverless car” will soon seem as anachronistic as “horseless carriage.” We don’t know how cars that don’t need human chauffeurs will mold society, but we can be sure a similar gear shift is on the way.
The First Self-Driving Cars
Just over a decade ago, the idea of being chauffeured around by a string of zeros and ones was ludicrous to pretty much everybody who wasn’t at an abandoned Air Force base outside Los Angeles, watching a dozen driverless cars glide through real traffic. That event was the Urban Challenge, the third and final competition for autonomous vehicles put on by Darpa, the Pentagon’s skunkworks arm.
At the time, America’s military-industrial complex had already thrown vast sums and years of research trying to make unmanned trucks. It had laid a foundation for this technology, but stalled when it came to making a vehicle that could drive at practical speeds, through all the hazards of the real world. So, Darpa figured, maybe someone else—someone outside the DOD’s standard roster of contractors, someone not tied to a list of detailed requirements but striving for a slightly crazy goal—could put it all together. It invited the whole world to build a vehicle that could drive across California’s Mojave Desert, and whoever’s robot did it the fastest would get a million-dollar prize.
Great for spotting things like lane lines on the highway, speed signs, and traffic lights. Some developers think that, with better machine vision, they can use cameras to identify everything they see and navigate accordingly.
The spinning thing you see on top of most self-driving cars is lidar (that’s “light detection and ranging”). It fires out millions of laser beams every second, measures how long they take to bounce back, and uses the data to build a 3-D map that’s more precise than what radar offers and easier for a computer to understand than a 2-D camera image. It’s also crazy expensive, hard to manufacture at scale, and nowhere near robust enough for a life of potholes and extreme temperatures. Good thing dozens of startups and tech giants are pouring millions of dollars into fixing all that.
At its simplest, this artificial intelligence tool trains computers to do things like detect lane lines and identify cyclists by showing them millions of examples of the subject at hand. Because the world is too complex to write a rule for every possible scenario, it’s key to have cars that can learn from experience and figure out how to navigate on their own.
Before a robocar takes to the streets, its parent company will use cameras and lidars to map its territory in extreme detail. That reference document helps the car verify its sensor readings, and it is key for any vehicle looking to know its own location, down to the centimeter—something standard GPS can’t offer.
A regular presence in cars since the late 1990s, radars bounce radio waves around to see their surrounding and are especially good at spotting big metallic objects—other vehicles. They’re cheap, reliable, and don’t sweat things like fog, rain, or snow.
The 2004 Grand Challenge was something of a mess. Each team grabbed some combination of the sensors and computers available at the time, wrote their own code, and welded their own hardware, looking for the right recipe that would take their vehicle across 142 miles of sand and dirt of the Mojave. The most successful vehicle went just seven miles. Most crashed, flipped, or rolled over within sight of the starting gate. But the race created a community of people—geeks, dreamers, and lots of students not yet jaded by commercial enterprise—who believed the robot drivers people had been craving for nearly forever were possible
They came back for a follow-up race in 2005 and proved that making a car drive itself was indeed possible: Five vehicles finished the course. By the 2007 Urban Challenge, the vehicles were not just avoiding obstacles and sticking to trails but following traffic laws, merging, parking, even making safe, legal U-turns.
When Google launched its self-driving car project in 2009, it started by hiring a team of Darpa Challenge veterans. Within 18 months, they had built a system that could handle some of California’s toughest roads (including the famously winding block of San Francisco’s Lombard Street) with minimal human involvement. A few years later, Elon Musk announced Tesla would build a self-driving system into its cars. And the proliferation of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft weakened the link between being in a car and owning that car, helping set the stage for a day when actually driving that car falls away too. In 2015, Uber even poached dozens of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University—a robotics and artificial intelligence powerhouse—to get its effort going.
After a few years, the technology reached a point where no automaker could ignore it. Companies like Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Tesla, Mercedes, and the rest started pouring billions into their own R&D. The tech giants followed, as did an armada of startups: Hundreds of small companies are now rushing to offer improved radars, cameras, lidars, maps, data management systems, and more to the big fish. The race is on.
The Future of Self-Driving Cars
Let’s start with the question you definitely want to ask: When will self-driving cars take over? Answer: wrong question. The autonomous vehicle is not a single device that someday will be ready and start shipping. It’s a system, a collection of inventions applied in a novel way. And, remember, the advance of the original car was constrained and shaped by forces like the growth of the road network and the availability of gasoline. The takeover of the self-driving car will depend on a new set of questions—the questions you should be asking.
When will self-driving technology be ready? That may, improbably, prove the easiest bit of making this real for the people whose lives it will affect. The hardware, to start, is mostly there. Cameras and radars are already cheap and robust enough to build into mass-market cars. Laser-shooting lidar is still pricey, but dozens of startups and major companies are racing to bring its cost to heel. Chipmakers like Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia are pushing down power requirements for these rolling supercomputers.
A Photographic History of Self-Driving Cars
Stanford Cart: People have been dreaming about self-driving cars for nigh a century, but the first vehicle that anyone really deemed “autonomous” was the Stanford Cart. First built in 1961, it could navigate around obstacles using cameras and an early version of artificial intelligence by the early 70s. One problem: It needed about 20 minutes to plan every one-meter move.
NavLab 5: In 1995, Carnegie Mellon researchers Todd Jochem and Dean Pomerleau drove across the country in NavLab 5, a 1990 Pontiac Trans Sport rigged up to drive itself. Over nearly 3,000 miles, the van did steer itself, using a windshield-mounted camera to look for lane lines, while the humans handled the gas and brakes.
Sandstorm: In the early 2000s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency decided to accelerate self-driving development with an open-to-all-comers race across the Mojave Desert. None of the finalists made it anywhere near the finish line, but the race created a new community of people interested in cracking the challenge. The best performer was Carnegie Mellon’s Sandstorm, a Humvee that used cameras, laser scanners, radars, and a 1,000-pound box full of electronics to pick its way through tricky terrain.
Stanley: When Darpa repeated the Grand Challenge in 2005, five vehicles completed the course. First among them was Stanford’s Stanley. The Volkswagen Touareg used the by-now standard combo of cameras, radars, and laser scanners, but relied heavily on machine learning to understand what it was looking at and how to navigate.
Boss: The third and final Darpa contest was the 2007 Urban Challenge, which was staged on an abandoned Air Force base. This time, Carnegie Mellon—working with General Motors—took first place with Boss. The sensor-laden Chevy Tahoe was aggressive, pushing but not breaking the rules of traffic. And like all the top performers, it used a new lidar laser-scanning system made by Velodyne, which offered a detailed, 360-degree view of the world.
Google Prius: In 2009, Google’s Larry Page asked Sebastian Thrun, creator of Stanford’s Stanley, to build him a self-driving car—and assigned him 1,000 miles of California roads to tackle in autonomous mode. After hiring the best minds from the Darpa Grand Challenges, Thrun rigged up a Prius with the requisite sensors. A year and a half later, the team had conquered the “Larry 1,000.”
Google Koala Car: For the next few years, Google dominated the self-driving conversation, gradually pushing the technology to a point where the auto industry could no longer ignore it. In 2014, it made clear its distaste for human drivers with the Firefly (everyone else called it the koala, or pod, car), a vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals. Three years later, after the self-driving team spun out of Google and became Waymo, it was retired in favor of Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
Mercedes F 015: By 2015, the big automakers were finally getting serious about autonomous tech. Mercedes-Benz (which did a lot of self-driving research in the 1980s) got particularly excited about the future with the F 015 ‘Luxury in Motion’, a gleaming ingot of a car with seats that swivelled around for better conversation, windows that doubled as touchscreens, and a steering wheel for those who just can’t let go.
Chevy Bolt (no steering wheel): Eleven years after helping Carnegie Mellon with Darpa’s Urban Challenge, GM fully embrace the robo-future with a version of the Chevy Bolt EV that features neither steering wheel nor pedals. This is the car the company will launch as a self-driving taxi sometime in 2019.
Toyota e-Palette: Before long, autonomous tech will free car designers from today’s constraints. Toyota explored that future with the e-Palette, a platform for a vehicle that can do everything from shuttling people to hauling pizzas to serving as a rolling hotel or medical center. It’s one of the boldest declarations yet that we are moving to a world where vehicles are much, much more than things we drive.
Next question: Can we build and operate these things en masse? The huge automakers that build millions of cars a year rely on the complex, precise interaction of dozens or hundreds of companies, the folks who provide all the bits and bobs that go into a car, and the services to keep them running. They need dealers to sell the things, gas pumps or charging stations to fuel them, body shops to fix them, parking lots to store them. The folks who want to offer autonomous vehicles need to rethink interactions and processes built up over a century. Waymo has partnered with Avis to take care of its fleet of driverless minivans in Arizona, and it’s working with a startup called Trov to insure their passengers. GM is rejiggering one of its production plants to pump out Chevrolet Bolts without steering wheels or pedals. Lidar maker Velodyne opened a “megafactory” in San Jose. Federal regulators are considering ways to certify vehicles that don’t conform to safety standards written with human drivers in mind. Various would-be providers are drawing up plans for operations centers, where humans can keep track of their robo-fleets and cater to customers or cars in need.
And it’s not if these things will be deployed, but how. To start, forget the idea of owning a fully self-driving vehicle. You can go out today and buy a car that handles highway driving for you, but the idea of a car that can handle any situation, anywhere you want to go, is decades off. Instead, expect to see these robocars debut in taxi-like fleets, operating in limited conditions and areas, so their operators can avoid particularly tricky intersections and make sure everything is mapped in excruciating detail. To take a ride, you’ll likely have to use predetermined pickup and dropoff points, so your car can always pull over safely and legally. Meanwhile, the people making these cars will be tackling knotty, practical questions. They’ll be figuring out how much to charge so they can recoup the R&D costs, but not so much to dissuade potential riders. They’ll wrangle with regulators and insurance companies, and what to do in the inevitable event of a crash that brings in the lawyers and legislators and safety advocates. And then, they’ll have to figure out how to expand—which is when the real competition begins. Uber and Ford and Waymo and GM may all start in different cities, but soon, they’ll start fighting for turf. You know how fiercely Uber and Lyft fight for market share now, tracking drivers, trying to undercut each other, and piling up promotions to bring in riders? Now imagine that same fight with several times more competitors.
Here’s the question everyone should really be asking: How will this technology change your life? Well, your ride to the airport will get cheaper and safer. Your pizza will show up in a human-free robot, no tipping required. Your highway commute will become less of a drag. But that’s the basic stuff, the horseless carriage.
The truth is, it’s hard to imagine what people will do once vehicles can move about on their own, and once these things are so efficient that the cost of transportation falls to something approaching zero. It’s easy to conjure up a dystopia, a world where robocars encourage sprawl, everyone lives 100 miles from their job, and sends their self-driving servants to do their errands and clog our streets. The optimists imagine a new kind of utopian city, where this technology not only eliminates crashes but integrates with existing public transit and remains affordable for all users. Like the internet, these vehicles will reflect some of our worse impulses, but also channel our best.
Robocars Could Add $7 Trillion to the Global Economy Autonomous tech isn’t just poised to generate piles of cash for whoever can harness it—it will fundamentally change one in every nine American jobs. The good news is that this tech will also create new waves of jobs, much like the rise of the automobile helped yielded new forms of employment, like office park construction workers and pizza delivery drivers. If you want a job in this new, self-driven economy, your best bets are IT and data crunching.
As Self-Driving Cars Approach, the Auto Industry Rushes to Rebuild Automotive supply chains span tiers of companies scattered around the globe. Automakers are constantly seeking to reduce cost and complexity—and increase profit—by joining forces with the folks whose strengths match their weaknesses. Now the industry is building the supply chains and partnerships that well help it push into a new self-driving age, one that demands manufacturing expertise, artificial intelligence know-how, mapping skills, piles of cash, and more.
The Very Human Problem Blocking the Path to Self-Driving Cars Maybe you’ve heard about Tesla’s Autopilot, Cadillac’s Supercruise, or Nissan’s ProPilot—systems in otherwise conventional cars that let the machine drive itself in limited situations, with human supervision. Sounds great, right? Yes, until you hear about the handoff problem. Making a semiautonomous car means designing a vehicle that doesn’t just drive itself but knows what its human is up to—and how to get them to take the wheel when needed.
Preparing Self-Driving Cars for the World’s Most Chaotic Cities Robots love rules. Stop here. Yield there. Go this speed. But navigating a human-filled world means knowing how to bend those dicta, how to negotiate with other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and others. That’s especially true in cities in developing countries, where traffic laws don’t hold much sway. So how can you possible make a car that can handle driving in India, or Lebanon, or Vietnam? It’s an important problem to solve: Chaotic cities are where car crashes claim the most lives and where safer robots could make the biggest difference.
Lawyers, Not Ethicists, Will Solve the Robocar ‘Trolley Problem’ Giving machines the ability to decide who to kill is a staple of dystopian science fiction, and explains why three out of four American drivers say they are afraid of self-driving cars. But worries over the “trolley problem”—in a situation where a crash is unavoidable, how does the robot decide whom to hit?—might have already been solved. One Stanford researcher says the law has preempted the problem, because the companies building these cars will be “less concerned with esoteric questions of right and wrong than with concrete questions of predictive legal liability.” Meaning, lawyers and lawmakers will sort things out.
What Does Tesla’s Automated Semi Mean for Truckers? Elon Musk is building a truck, and like other Tesla vehicles this semi will be able to handle itself on the highway. He’s not the only one trying to throw the driver out of the cab—and threaten 3 million solid middle-class American jobs in the process. So what does the future look like for truck drivers? That kind of depends on how you define trucking. Because autonomous big rigs aren't going to be 100 percent autonomous, at least not in the near or medium future.
Google’s Self-Driving Car Company Is Finally Here Seven years after kickstarting the self-driving industry, Google’s self-driving car project became its own company under the Alphabet umbrella: Waymo. Now the company is rushing toward commercializing its miracle movers. "We're a self-driving car company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get around," says CEO John Krafcik. What that means, exactly, is still an open question—perhaps as much for Waymo as for the rest of us.
The Uber v. Waymo Showdown Looms: Here’s What You Need to Know In any burgeoning industry where lots of people are trying to make lots of money, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets sued. And the first legal showdown of the robocar era is a doozy: In February 2017, Waymo filed suit against Uber, accusing it of stealing reams of its intellectual property and using it to boost its lagging effort to develop self-driving cars. After a few delays, the jury trial is set to begin in February. Uber, of course, says it did no such thing. Here’s what you need to know to follow along.
Nothing will build you dislike humans–capricious, volatile, unplanned, erratic humans–like sitting in the back of self-driving car. When I hitched a ride in one, a white and orange General Motors Cruise autonomous vehicle during a press event in San Francisco on Tuesday, every movement was a cause for alarm. Two walkers darted out in front of the car during my approximately 20 -minute, 3-mile ride, blissfully ignorant that they were trusting their lives to a piece of software. Two cyclists attained unexpected but sweeping turns. Human-operated vehicles whipped around corners and rolled through stop signs. Why couldn’t they be like this autonomous vehicle: extra cautious, considerate, aware?
But this chaos–this unpremeditated waltz of oops , no, you go and nope, buster, me first–is reality. It’s how cities work. Which means that if a auto is going to drive itself , no humans drivers involved, it must get really good at interpreting and anticipating the behavior of human non-drivers.
In this regard, the electric, self-driving Chevrolet Bolt seems to be doing just OK. My trip was far from smooth, the vehicle so careful that it jolted, disconcertingly, to a stop at even the whisper of a collision. If the Silicon Valley motto is “move fast and break things, ” Detroit’s seems to be “move below the velocity restriction and ensure you don’t kill anyone.”
My herky-jerky ride in an autonomous vehicle showed that Cruise Automation, acquired by General Motors in 2016, has attained serious progression. No San Franciscans were hurt during the produce of this article. But the biggest vehicle manufacturer in America has some big work to do before humans take the back seat–for good.
Let’s Take a Self-Drive
When Cruise opened the doors of its self-driving autoes to journalists this week, it marked the first time non-investors and non-GM-ers were allowed inside. But Cruise launched its own ridehailing app, Cruise Anywhere, in August, and workers have been hitching free self-driving rides around San Francisco ever since. So when it was time to begin my trip-up, an employee handed me an iPhone, and I employed the app to hail a vehicle. I selected one of three pre-determined destinations–a basketball court in Mission Bay–and a Bolt nicknamed Pickle accepted my ride.
And then it cancelled. And then no other autoes were around to get me. I am here to tell you: The future feels a lot like the present. Eventually, another vehicle–named and labeled Chinchilla–pulled up outside, and the ride began.
Elon Musks electric car company has been valued at $49 bn, leaving the 100 -year-old motor manufacturer lagging behind
One is an automotive titan that has built more than 350 m vehicles in an illustrious history spanning more than a century.
The other is less than 15 years old and has never made a profit.
And yet a 7% upsurge in the value of shares in electric car firm Tesla on Monday saw it zoom ahead of Ford Motor Company, in terms of its stock market value.
As Wall Street closed for the working day, Tesla, led by 45 -year-old tycoon and futurist Elon Musk, was worth $49 bn( 38 bn ), compared with a paltry $46 bn for the empire built by Henry Ford.
This astonishing overtaking manoeuvre says as much about the nature of stock markets as it does about these two very different carmakers.
The old cliche among stock market investors is that you should buy on the gossip, sell on the fact the idea that investment is more about what you expect to happen in the future than the current state of play.
And Tesla, investors believe, is the standard-bearer of a battery-powered future while Ford is the archetypal mass-production legacy auto business.
Based in the Californian tech hub of Palo Alto, Tesla delivered 76,230 cars last year a fraction of Fords 6.65 m.
It induced sales of$ 7bn but a loss of $746 m, while Ford recorded a $10.4 bn earning after racking up sale of $152 bn.
But fresh figures published the coming week, which incorporates the most recent three months, demonstrated 70% growth in marketings at Tesla, with 25,000 electric vehicles rolling noiselessly into the garages of their new owners.
That sort of growth rate is what sent investors piling into Tesla shares, expecting a continued global push for greener cars to be the catalyst for converting notional value into concrete returns.
And if Musk is to to be believed, Tesla wont be slowing down any time soon.
The firms production targets are unprecedented in the automotive industry. Tesla has defined a goal of constructing 500,000 vehicles in 2018 and Musk has even created the prospect of doubling that to 1m by 2020.
Tesla may be on a charge, but Ford is in particularly bad shape. It remains in the worlds top 10 automobile firms and is also among the US Big Three alongside General Motor and Chrysler. But while Teslas sales are soaring, the 6.65 m vehicles that Ford sold last year were just 16,000 up on 2015 sales. In the most recent quarterly update from Ford, marketings actually fell.
The company that helped to build Detroit, often known as Motor City, sold 1.7 m automobiles in the one-quarter, about 68,000 fewer than in the same period the previous year.
Musk was in the mood to gloat about Teslas comparatively rapid growth story.
Stormy weather in Shortville, he tweeted, a reference to traders who had been burned by shorting Tesla betting its results would disillusion and its shares would fall.
Kyle Vogt, CEO and founder of Cruise Automation, exposed very big news for his company and its owner GM, which acquired the startup last year. The news is that they’re ready to mass produce a vehicle ready for self-driving, with everything on board they need to become fully autonomous vehicles once the software and regulatory environment is ready to attain that happen.
“Today, we’re announcing the first production design of a self-driving vehicle that can be built at massive scale, ” Vogt told. “And more importantly, these vehicles can operate without a driver.”
That means they have all the components in place, that “when the software’s ready, ” Vogt added, they can remove the drivers and operate safely on roads.
Doug Parks, GM’s VP of Autonomous Technology and Vehicle Execution, has pointed out that he has been involved in the design of Volt, and Bolt EV. Throughout, they knew this could be a platform that eventually led toward autonomous capabilities. All were “on the way to enabling what Kyle simply announced, the first mass-produced, autonomous high-volume car.”
“It’s constructing the changes to the design so that we can build that on the line at Orion’s assembly center, ” Parks explained, talking about how this includes working with suppliers to get proportions ready and that was what was accomplished with its generation-two exam cars.
This latest vehicle is a production-ready design, Parks said. What that entails is that it has “full redundancy” throughout the autonomous system, so that it’s ready mechanically and from a sensor and software view to “fail operationally and be safe.”
The vehicle will be based on a third-generation Cruise self-driving platform, using the Chevrolet Bolt, and will be produced at the automaker’s Orion, Michigan facility, which is where they previously announced they would be producing their Bolt test cars.
This isn’t an announcement that entails self-driving autoes will be posted on roads to consumers tomorrow; Park said there’s still “a lot of work to be done” before that can happen.
Vogt “was talkin about a” how their aim throughout has been to increase safety with autonomous tech, and pointed out that there’s no way that can happen without scale: Launching a few hundred vehicles on the roads isn’t going to accomplish that larger benefit.
“The key challenge, and what’s hard especially for tech companies, is constructing the cars, ” he said. “And building lots of them.”
Retrofit vehicles are hard to build, he said, and they “keep breaking, ” so it’s hard to continually fix them up and get them back on the roads. This announcement means that the cars will be able to roll off the line in quantities of hundreds of thousands per year. And while they look very much like the current shipping Bolt EV, under the hood, Vogt said that 40 percent of the portions are new, and the majority of members of those are focused on redundancy of parts and systems.
Fifty vehicles have been built by GM, and production is expected to ramp up from here. Vogt says there isn’t yet a timeline for deploying the software that enables full self-driving, but he added that these are destined for deployment in fleets, rather than as individually owned customer vehicles.
Vogt pointed out that this is the third generation of Cruise’s autonomous vehicle in simply 14 months, which is indeed a remarkable timeline for development of a fully functional self-driving platform, even for testing intents. He also took the opportunity to highlight the difference between what GM and Cruise have announced, and the kind of one-off demo vehicles other automakers and tech companies have brought to events like CES.
In its 114-year history, Ford has been many kinds of automaker. A manufacturing innovator, a hawker of Mustang muscle, a pickup powerhouse. Now the company that helped put a car (or two) in every garage wants to be something else altogether: an operating system.
"With the power of AI and the rise of autonomous and connected vehicles, for the first time in a century, we have mobility technology that won’t just incrementally improve the old system but can completely disrupt it," CEO Jim Hackett said in a keynote address at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, trumpeting the pivot. "A total redesign of the surface transportation system with humans and community at the center."
As Ford executives move to execute the plan, they unveiled yesterday a reorganization of the automaker's young mobility business, with two acquisitions to help it along. It's all in service of a new, very 21st century goal. Ford will put less effort into convincing people to plunk down their credit cards for personal cars (though that’s still important) and more into moving them from A to B, with a little Ford badge tacked onto whatever gets them there.
It's a turbulent time for traditional automakers, which have to keep making money today while aggressively prepping for the market changes—carshare, ridehailing, self-driving—that will happen tomorrow. Ford's news comes eight months after the company dismissed CEO Mark Fields in favor of Hackett, a former furniture exec who oversaw the formation of Ford's mobility subsidiary—and promised a greater vision for the future. Earlier this week, the Detroit automaker posted disappointing quarterly profits. Ford blamed rising metal prices while CFO Bob Shanks said, “We have to be far fitter than we are.”
In lean times, every expenditure merits extra scrutiny. And while Ford Mobility President Marcy Klevorn did not disclose how much it spent on its new companies, she says they're important steps on Ford's path to becoming more than a big ol' automaker. “We did an assessment of our strategy and what our gaps were and the speed we wanted to go,” she says. “We looked at where we thought we needed a really fast infusion of help.”
Still, it's all a little woolly. The thing about being a platform that connects the world is that others have to agree to come aboard. So while Ford tries to woo partners—other carmakers, mobility companies like Uber or Lyft, carsharing companies, bikesharing providers, entire cities—the carmaking continues. Make money now, prep for tomorrow.
OK, let's look at the details of this new arrangement for tomorrow. Acquisition A is Autonomic, a Palo Alto–based company with a cloud-based platform called … wait for it … the Transportation Mobility Cloud. Autonomic seeks to build a kind of iOS for cities, managing data and transactions between city-dwellers and agencies and companies that provide payment processing, route mapping, mass transit, and city infrastructure services. That sounds vague, because it is.
“By making all these different services available we have no idea what’s going to come so we’re super excited,” Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra told Fortune Thursday. Autonomic seeks to be the go-to platform for other car manufacturers, too, and Klevorn indicated Ford hopes to monetize its cloud service quickly. Somehow.
Acquisition B is TransLoc, a 14-year-old Durham, North Carolina–based company that makes software to help cities, corporate campuses, and universities manage their transportation systems, from traditional fixed-route service to on-demand ridehailing apps like Uber and Lyft. “Ford is interested in taking the streets back in the city, and getting more people out of single occupancy cars,” says CEO Doug Kaufman. “I think one of the reasons that we ended up with Ford and not some other suitor is because our missions are so aligned.” Ford's execs said they would lean on TransLoc’s existing sales relationships with hundreds of cities and transit agencies to accelerate its platform plan.
Meanwhile, the company is restructuring its Ford Mobility subsidiary. Autonomic is moving into a new accelerator section called Ford X. The Mobility Business Group will handle microtranist service Chariot, car services app FordPass, and digital services. Mobility Platforms and Products will cover autonomous vehicle partnerships and transportation as a service. And a new mobility marketing group will sell it all to the world. (Argo AI, the autonomous vehicle developer that Ford plunked $1 billion into last year, is still technically an independent company.)
It’s close to a throw-it-all-see-what-sticks move, but it does show Ford is charting a different path into this new world than its great rival. General Motors, which acquired startup Cruise Automation in 2016, is all about the autonomous and electric vehicle, with self-driving Chevy Bolts testing on roads in Phoenix and San Francisco. It’s even starting to think about making actual, honest-to-goodness driverless vehicles, this month showing off a design for a steering wheel– and pedal-free EV, and touting plans to get the thing on the road by 2019. The company's Maven service, which provides car rental and sharing in 11 American cities, could be a great, data-hoovering starting point for a delivery and ridesharing service. And GM employees in San Francisco are using Cruise Anywhere, an Uber-like platform, to catch rides in self-driving testing vehicles. But GM hasn't as overtly attempted to partner with cities yet, and its broader mobility strategy is hazy. Will GM provide transportation services and not just an excellent autonomous, electric car? Can any American automaker do that?
Ford has been pretty consistent about its admittedly hazy vision for the future of mobility. (At least, consistent with its messaging.) "The bigger risk is doing nothing," executive chairman Bill Ford told WIRED back in 2015, as he outlined a future where a single, digital ticket could buy you a ride on a car, taxi, subway, bus, or bicycle. "I am very confident that we can compete and morph into something quite different." Now it's time to deliver.