At about 10 pm on Sunday evening, a self-driving Uber struck and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona. The crash appears to be the first time a self-driving vehicle has killed someone--and could alter the course of a scantily regulated, poorly understood technology that has the power to save lives and create fortunes. The Tempe Police Department reports the Volvo XC90 SUV was in autonomous mode when the crash occurred, though the car had a human safety driver behind the wheel to monitor the technology and retake control in the case of an emergency or imminent crash. The woman, Elaine Herzberg, was transported to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries. The police department will complete its full report later today.
In the increasingly fierce--if not entirely tangible--fight for the exploding self-driving car market, Lyft stands out for its free love vibes. The company encourages anyone and everyone with robo-car tech to deploy its vehicles on Lyft's ride-hailing network. In a business that could be worth trillions before long, Lyft wants to be the middleman for the everyman, the platform that will connect cars to riders--and take its slice of the money, of course. So far, Ford, Waymo, Jaguar Land Rover, and Aptiv (a self-driving spinoff from supplier Delphi) have thrown their keys in the bowl. At the same time, Lyft announced last July it was developing its own autonomous driving technology, hiring hundreds of engineers to fill a building in Palo Alto.
For many cities, here's the toughest pill to swallow: Their mayors don't actually have control of their streets. This is true of the metro Phoenix area, where Google's self-driving sister company Waymo is testing cars without drivers inside. And Miami, where Ford will touch down with self-driving pizza delivery vehicles this month. And Boston, where cars powered by the developer NuTonomy are picking people up near the seaport.
On Tuesday, ride-hailing giant Uber announced it was doing a very cool, techno-futuristic thing: starting a commercial delivery service that included letting a truck drive itself 344 miles across Arizona. Of course, a trained safety operator sat behind the wheel the whole time, ready to take over if anything went awry. Pshaw, says a small startup called Starsky Robotics. In true Florida Man fashion, founder and CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher decided to do something much bolder and a bit scarier: In mid-February, in the Sunshine State (where regulations are as lax as those in Arizona), he sent his truck down the road for a 7-mile journey--with nobody inside. Now Starsky expects to start making completely driverless deliveries in Florida by the end of 2018, with at least one truck.
Ask the oracles about the future of the auto industry and you'll hear a lot of murmuring about an all-electric future featuring shared autonomous shuttles shuffling around city centers. They may be right, but in today's auto industry it's size that sells. Pickup trucks remain rolling ATMs for American and Japanese automakers. For the Europeans, the crisp bank notes come from giant coupes: Take an SUV, subtract some practicality, add a dose of style and a few cow herds' worth of leather. The results--vehicles like the Mercedes GLC coupe and BMW 6-series--are popular for a sporty look with a high, commanding driving position.
The most impressive thing about the Uber trip from the Midwest to Southern California wasn't that the truck drove itself the 344 miles across Arizona. It was what happened when two men named Larry and Mark met at the western edge of the Copper State. Larry, the trained safety driver, had spent the autonomous voyage watching over his robot. Mark was freshly arrived from Los Angeles in a conventional truck. Mark drove his new pile of cargo to its final destination.
It's the question on the lips of just about everybody involved in the transportation business--and a few who aren't. The ranks of those offering ride-sharing services have swelled far beyond the likes of Uber and Lyft, past the self-driving gurus like Google sister company Waymo, past even the established automakers.
If you work on self-driving cars, the cocktail party question people always ask is probably: When will I get to interact with one? For two years now, Ford Motor Company has had an answer--in 2021. That year, Ford wants to launch a self-driving taxi service, and it wants to start making deliveries with driverless vehicles.
Of the many vehicles that drove the 120 miles from Seoul to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics, one Hyundai stood out. Not because it runs on hydrogen, though that's unusual enough. This Nexo crossover did the cross-country trip all on its own. And just like the athletes, the car was there to show off its skills for the crowds. Along with two just like it, plus a pair of autonomous Genesis G80 sedans, it spent the Games giving demonstration rides to fans.