Waymo's autonomous cars have steadily rolled through test routes in multiple states over the past few years, and now the company claims it has passed a new milestone: 4 million self-driven miles logged on public roads. That makes the Waymo fleet the most experienced autonomous car platform currently on the road, according to the company, which says the average American driver would take 300 years to hit the same mark. While the number is arbitrary to a degree, the progress it represents is essential to Waymo's mission to create truly driverless cars. The AI behind the platform needs to be trained in real-world situations to understand how to react to every potential condition it might face, so the more test miles it logs, the better. The Google spinoff says its fleet of test vehicles drove the last million miles in just six months, a rapid improvement from the 18 months it took to accumulate the first million (from the first public test).
Uber is planning to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo, the company has announced, moving from its current model of ride-sharing using freelance drivers to owning a fleet of autonomous cars. Following the three-year self-driving partnership with Volvo, the non-binding framework could give Uber a boost in its ambitions to perfect self-driving systems to replace human drivers, following setbacks and lawsuits over trade secrets and talent. Volvo said Monday it would provide Uber with up to 24,000 of its flagship XC90 SUVs, which retail from around £50,000, equipped with autonomous technology as part of a non-exclusive deal from 2019 to 2021. The Geely-owned car company will provide the vehicles, while Uber will provide the yet-to-be-built self-driving system, which is currently under development by Uber's Advanced Technologies Group. The announcement follows the news that Alphablet's Waymo will launch the world's first autonomous car service in the next few months in Arizona, where it is legal to operate self-driving cars without humans behind the wheel, unlike the majority of the rest of the US and the world, which requires the safety net of a human driver.
Tesla will reveal its semi-truck design tonight in a highly anticipated event in Hawthorne, California, reaching another goal in founder Elon Musk's "Master Plan" for the company. The semi is the automaker's first shot at disrupting the trucking industry in the same way it brought all-electric cars to the forefront of the consumer auto conversation -- but Tesla won't be alone in its attempt to bring electric, autonomous big rigs to the world's highways. There are multiple next-gen trucking projects in the works from all manner of players, from fledgling startups with one killer concept to major conglomerates launching new brands. Some of the ventures focus on creating all-electric powertrains for heavy-duty vehicles, while others add self-driving features and new fleet logistics systems to standard rigs -- but they all want to shake up the trucking industry. SEE ALSO: Elon Musk rips the press for'ridiculous' coverage of Tesla firings Before Musk takes the stage at 8 p.m. Pacific on Thursday (or jumps on top of his new rig or whatever he winds up doing), lets take a look at a few of the other most exciting trucks in development that could change the way we haul cargo.
Waymo, formerly known as Google's self-driving car, is launching a fully autonomous Uber-like ride-hailing service with no human driver behind the wheel, after testing the vehicles on public roads in Arizona. Waymo, which is owned by Google parent Alphabet, said members of the public will begin riding in its fleet of modified Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans outfitted with self-driving technology in the next few months. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic car. The service will first be available to those who are already part of the company's public trial already under way in Phoenix. Rides will be free to start with, but Waymo expects to begin charging for journeys at some point.
Tesla is expected to finally unveil its semi truck on Nov. 16. The vehicle will be Tesla's first venture into commercial trucks, and is also being considered a test for the electric vehicle technology. Commercial deployment of large batteries needed to support such trucks will mark a paradigm shift for fuel guzzling vehicles with large carbon footprints. It will also make way for autonomous electric vehicles. While Tesla is bringing its range of technology to the trucking segment, it also has competitors in waiting.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has suggested a set of 28 "behavioral competencies," or basic things an autonomous vehicle should be able to do. Some are exceedingly basic ("detect and respond to stopped vehicles," "navigate intersections and perform turns"); others, more intricate ("respond to citizens directing traffic after a crash.) "This overview of our safety program reflects the important lessons learned through the 3.5 million miles Waymo's vehicles have self-driven on public roads, and billions of miles of simulated driving, over the last eight years," Waymo Chief Executive John Krafcik said in a letter Thursday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. "You can't expect to program the car for everything you're possibly going to see," said Ron Medford, Waymo's safety director and a former senior National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official.
Both the Audi Elaine and Audi Aicon make use of something called Audi AI technologies to make highly automated driving possible under certain circumstances. Audi AI draws on the many years of experience that the brand has accumulated in concept cars featuring piloted driving. Once again, this already exists in the form of a feature called Traffic Jam Assist from Audi, which assumes the task of braking and accelerating vehicles in slow moving traffic up to 40 miles per hour. You only need to resume the task of piloting the vehicle when the car leaves the area defined for highly automated driving.
In 2016, after seven years of developing self-driving technology, Google abandoned plans to build its own jelly-bean pod cars, and partnered with Chrysler for the metal-bending part of the equation. The company had no expertise in hair dryers before building its Supersonic hair dryer, which launched last year and has sold more than 1 million units. "If you know a lot about combustion engines, there is very, very little transferable knowledge from building combustion engines to building electric engines." Conze expects Dyson's vehicles to have 50 percent to 100 percent greater range than existing offerings, though he declines to specify what that means.
The carmakers -- who collectively sold more vehicles than any other company in the world in the first half of this year -- also announced plans to make "robo-taxis," driverless public transport vehicles and autonomous cars aimed at middle-class consumers. It wants 15 minutes of charging time to provide 230 km (140 miles) of range, up from 90 km (55 miles) of range now. Ghosn said electric car sales are growing by more than 50 percent annually in some European markets, and that his alliance is watching China's emissions policies closely. He said the carmakers aim to boost annual sales to $240 billion and to sell 14 million cars a year by 2022, up from 10 million in 2016.
The commercial trucking industry appears interested in Musk's proposed battery-powered heavy-duty vehicle, which can compete with conventional diesels and travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel. Tesla's plans for new electric vehicles, including a commercial truck called the Tesla Semi, were announced last year, and in April Musk said the release of the semi-truck was set for September. In August, leaked correspondence with vehicle regulators revealed Tesla's plan to test long-haul, electric lorries that move in so-called platoons, or road-trains, that automatically follow a lead vehicle driven by a human. The Department for Transport announced last month that platoons of self-driving lorries will be trialled on England's motorways.