The self-driving car crashes that usually make the news are, unsurprisingly, either big and smashy or new and curious. The Apple that got bumped while merging into traffic. The Waymo van that got t-boned. And of course, the Uber that hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona in March. Look at every robo-car crash report filed in California, though, and you get a more mundane picture--but one that reveals a striking pattern.
Months after an Uber self -driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, the ride-hailing giant has announced it's adding a new engineering hub in Toronto and expanding its autonomous research team as it refocuses its self-driving car efforts. In his first visit to the Canadian tech hub since becoming CEO of Uber last year, Dara Khosrowshahi announced plans to invest $150 million in Toronto over the next five years. Uber will bring on 300 new employees, bringing the company's total headcount in Toronto to 500. The new engineering hub is expected to open early next year. We've reached out to Uber for comment.
As Uber and Tesla have learned, it doesn't take a lot of bad press to shatter public trust on autonomous vehicles. Ford has taken that lesson to heart, saying it would rather instill confidence in self-driving cars than be first to market. In a letter to the US Department of Transportation (DoT) and 44-page report called "A Matter of Trust," the automaker detailed how it plans to safely test its self-driving vehicles on public roads. The death of a pedestrian involving a Uber self-driving vehicle with a safety driver in particular seemed to affect the public's opinion of self driving cars. Prior to that, 44 percent of US adults said they'd be okay riding in autonomous cars.
When it comes to autonomous-vehicle testing, Waymo is one of the obvious leaders. Earlier this March, Navigant Research named Waymo, because of its vision, partners, go-to market strategy, technology, production strategy, product quality and reliability sales, marketing and distribution, product capability, staying power, and product portfolio, as a leader in the race. As a leader, Waymo announced that its autonomous vehicles had impressively traveled a total of 5 million miles earlier this year. That was an impressive figure, as it took the company just three months to reach -- three months from breaking the 4-million mile mark. At the time, the technology company claimed that its vehicles were traveling the same amount of miles the average American driver travels in a year in one day.
In the four months since an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a woman in Arizona, the ride-hail company's autonomous vehicle tech has stayed off public roads. The governor of that state banned Uber from testing there; the company let its autonomous vehicle testing permit lapse in California; it pulled its vehicles off the streets of Pittsburgh, home to its self-driving R&D center. Until today, when self-driving chief Eric Meyhofer announced in a blog post that Uber would return its self-driving cars to the roads in Pittsburgh. For now, the vehicles will stay in manual (human-driven) mode, simply collecting data for training and mapping purposes. To prep for the tech's return to the public space, Uber has undertaken a wholesale "safety review", with the help of former National Transportation Safety Board chair and aviation expert Christopher Hart.
Daimler will soon take its Mercedes-Benz self-driving cars to the public streets of Beijing. It's the first non-Chinese company to win a license to test level 4 self-driving vehicles there. Level 4 is the second-highest tier of autonomous driving, in which cars can operate without human input in select conditions. Eventually, you might be able to take a nap while these types of vehicles ferry you around. The test vehicles use technology from Daimler's partner Baidu Apollo, and they had to go through rigorous closed-course testing in Beijing and Hebei before Chinese authorities granted the license.
Computers may be poised to take control of driving in the future, but humans will be backing them for some time yet. Tech giants Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc., auto makers General Motors Co. GM -0.85% and Nissan Motor Co. NSANY -1.16%, and upstarts like Phantom Auto are all developing ways for people to remotely assist their autonomous vehicles during complicated driving situations. "You're going to want as many different backup systems as possible, and human beings performing remote operations is one of those," said Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and adviser to venture-capital firm Autotech Ventures. Having human backup will likely help alleviate concerns that regulators and insurance companies have about the new technology, he added. Driverless cars, using sensors, cameras and digital maps, tend to navigate the world based on road markings and rules of the road.
Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Google-parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)(NASDAQ:GOOG), took its first delivery of 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans supplied by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) in December of 2016, adding an additional 500 to its corral in April 2017. Earlier this year, the companies announced that Waymo would be adding "thousands" more minivans to its fleet, though it didn't specify how many. This article originally appeared in the Motley Fool. The companies just revealed the extent of their partnership, which will see Waymo adding up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacific Hybrid minivans to its fleet, more than 100 times the 600 it currently drives. While terms of the deal weren't made public, this total could exceed $2 billion, and delivery of the cars is expected to begin later this year.
The co-founder of Google's DeepMind has slammed self-driving cars for not being safe enough, saying current early tests on public roads are irresponsible. Demis Hassabis has urged developers to be cautious with the new technology, saying it is difficult to prove systems are safe before putting them on public roads. The issue of AI in self-driving cars has flared up this year following the death of a women hit but a self-driving Uber in March. The accident was the first time a pedestrian was killed on a public road by an autonomous car, which had previously been praised as the safer alternative to a traditional car. Speaking at the Royal Society in London, Dr Hassabis said current driverless car programmes could be putting people's lives in danger.
Expect to see driverless cars roaming around the Buckeye State in the near future. Ohio Governor John Kasich has issued an executive order permitting self-driving car tests on public roads, adding to a small but growing list of autonomous-friendly states that includes Arizona, California and Michigan. There are conditions, of course, although they're not extremely strict at first glance. Every vehicle will need a human operator from the company performing the tests and reporting any accidents. Every hopeful firm will also have to register with DriveOhio, a central hub for mobility initiatives (conveniently established by Kasich in January) that will collect information on both the cars and their testing locations.