On the stage next to Krafcik stood a self-driving hybrid minivan from Fiat Chrysler equipped with his company's technology. A short-range lidar covers areas beside the minivan that would otherwise have been in the shadow of the rooftop sensor. Exactly how much of Waymo's self-driving prowess comes from such hardware--rather than improved software and road mapping--isn't clear. What is clear is that Waymo wants to supply the entire auto industry with packages that can be fitted to just about any vehicle.
Take a short walk through Singapore's city center and you'll cross a helical bridge modeled on the structure of DNA, pass a science museum shaped like a lotus flower, and end up in a towering grove of artificial Supertrees that pulse with light and sound. It's no surprise, then, that this is the first city to host a fleet of autonomous taxis. Since last April, robo-taxis have been exploring the 6 kilometers of roads that make up Singapore's One-North technology business district, and people here have become used to hailing them through a ride-sharing app. Maybe that's why I'm the only person who seems curious when one of the vehicles--a slightly modified Renault Zoe electric car--pulls up outside of a Starbucks. Seated inside the car are an engineer, a safety driver, and Doug Parker, chief operating officer of nuTonomy, the MIT spinout that's behind the project.
Sweden's Volvo had been in virtual hibernation in recent years, cut loose from Ford, sold to a Chinese owner, and resting on past innovations. And the XC90 antes up with two world's firsts in self-driving safety: In addition to staying in its lane, as some other cars do, the Volvo takes evasive steering and braking action if it senses an imminent departure from the road. And if the Volvo leaves the road anyway, the system electrically cinches front seat belts to secure occupants as much as possible. At speeds below 50 km/h, the Pilot Assist function links the camera and steering to keep the XC90 centered in its lane, actively moving the steering wheel to do the job.
Is "reasonably safe" defined by the average human driver, the perfect human driver, or the perfect computer driver? Because of the risk of such a lawsuit, the potential legal costs faced by manufacturers of autonomous vehicles are higher than the costs faced by human drivers. Most auto accidents usually result in pretrial settlements, and the 4 percent of cases that go to trial have relatively low legal costs and low potential damages, compared with those of a design-defect lawsuit. As the safety of autonomous vehicles improves and as legal costs become more predictable, stricter safety standards could be imposed to encourage further progress.